Commissioner: Burrillville responsible for cost of student placed at Harmony Hill

Commissioner Angélica M. Infante-Green

PROVIDENCE – The Burrillville School Department must reimburse the Department of Children, Youth and Families for the education expense of a student who attended Harmony Hill School for two years, following a decision by the state commissioner of education.

The order stems from a 2017 decision by DCYF to place a student from Burrillville in a residential treatment facility without input from Burrillville school officials, according to Supt. Michael Sollitto.

“It was a unilateral decision by DCYF claiming it was in the best interest of the student,” said Sollitto. “The reason that we fought this was there was a significant cost for residential treatment.”

According to the ruling, the student was placed at Harmony Hill School after being hospitalized at two different psychiatric facilities, and remained there from October of 2017 through March of 2019.

Sollitto noted that the issue was that the placement was made unilaterally, “with little if any consideration for the financial impact on the district.”

“If our team met and agreed that this student needed residential placement, absolutely we’d pick up the tab,” he said. “DCYF said ‘he’s going to this school and you’re paying for it.’ Our team disagreed with the decision, but didn’t have a say at all.”

Communities including Foster-Glocester and North Providence had challenged the obligation to pay for such placements in the past.

“Several districts have fought the same battle on this, and we’ve all lost,” Sollitto said.

The decision pointed to the previous cases noting, “these decisions collectively constitute binding legal precedent.”

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