January 18, 2022

Blue Hill school gets OK to open> Liberty cannot yet draw public tuition

BLUE HILL — The Liberty School has not received state “approval” as school officials indicated Friday, but it did get permission to open this week with the designation of “nonapproved private school acceptable for attendance purposes only,” a state official said Monday.

After a visit to the site by two Department of Education officials on Friday, the school’s acting director, Arnold Greenberg, answered “Yes, we can open” when asked whether the school had been approved by the state. At the same time he acknowledged that the state said some issues remained to be resolved. On Friday, the Department of Education failed to return several calls seeking to confirm Greenberg’s comments.

On Monday morning, as the nontraditional high school officially opened for a teacher inservice day, Edwin “Buzz” Kastuck of the department’s school approval division called to correct what Greenberg called a misunderstanding regarding the school’s status. The official said he has received numerous calls from people confused about the situation.

As Kastuck explained it Monday, only two designations are available to private schools in Maine.

Under “nonapproved private school acceptable for attendance purposes only,” a school can operate, but can not receive public tuition funds. Attendance must be reported to students’ home district school superintendents to ensure that students are properly credited with being in school.

This is the designation the Liberty School received Friday, due to several outstanding issues the state says must still be resolved.

As of a couple of years ago, more than 100 schools operating in Maine carried this designation, said Kastuck.

“They tend to be schools from the religious right,” he said.

The other designation such schools may receive is “approved private school acceptable for tuition purposes.” The Liberty School is hoping to achieve this status by addressing unresolved issues in time for a follow-up site visit Sept. 30.

“I don’t like the term `nonapproved,’ because it sounds like they’ve been rejected,” said Kastuck. Nonetheless, the Liberty School will not be eligible to receive tuition unless it achieves “approved” designation from the state during the next site visit.

Greenberg said the school’s board of directors met with parents Sunday to discuss the school’s status, and that no parent has withdrawn a student due to concerns regarding tuition. He said tuition eligibility will be crucial, as all but a handful of the 40 enrolled students are relying on getting it through their local school systems.

Even to operate as a nonapproved school, the Liberty School is asked to submit a final letter of intent outlining the school’s plans to meet various guidelines such as operating at least 175 days a year, and complying with safety regulations, said Kastuck.

The school needs to address additional issues to receive the state’s “approved” designation, said the official.

One such question is whether Greenberg, who holds a master’s degree in philosophy of education from Temple University, has the credentials to qualify for certification as a school administrator. Greenberg said Monday that the school board has identified several individuals who could step in if he fails to gain certification, and that he could serve as the administrator’s assistant.

Questions also remain regarding the certification of some teachers, said Kastuck.

Finally, Kastuck said, his site visit Friday determined that parts of the building were not yet in compliance.

“The school was nowhere near finished,” he said, noting as examples that bathroom facilities were not yet complete and water had not been turned on.

Greenberg said school organizers will keep in close contact with education officials between now and Sept. 30, hoping to resolve all but building issues before the site visit on that date.

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