HARVARD -- The biggest controversy of Monday night's School Committee meeting arose over the two different versions of the foreign exchange student admission policy.
One of the two versions does not include Devens in the orientation process, something to which Devens Educational Advisory Committee Chairman Maureen Babcock and Harvard School Committee member and DEAC liaison Kirsten Wright took exception.
As Harvard Public Schools Interim Superintendent Joseph Connelly explained it, MassDevelopment Executive VP for Devens Operations George Ramirez indicated that he would prefer that the acceptance of a Devens host family be handled on a case-by-case basis, rather than be identified as a regular potential host family in the document.
Ramirez, he said, was concerned about the per pupil tuition charge for the family. If it were a Devens family with children already in the school district, then perhaps the district could add an additional student at no charge. Otherwise, Connelly said, for each student from the Devens population, that would be one more student MassDevelopment would have to pay for.
I think it should be clarified," said Babcock. "I don't think we should have Devens do this on a case-by-case basis."
Connelly suggested that it would be discriminating against other Devens families if they had to have school-aged children, as potential Harvard host families do not.
I don't see it that way," said Wright. "For students that are here, they are paying tuition through Devens, so it seems they are contributing financially, they are part of our community, and it should be an equal opportunity just as for all Harvard students who are paying taxes. It seems like that in our policy there is a way to honor that. It just doesn't otherwise feel right to me."
So you feel there should be no tuition charge for Devens as long as the host family has school-aged children at Harvard?" Connelly asked. "I think if we wrote the language that way, MassDevelopment would not have any problem with it. If they have children currently enrolled in our schools, MassDevelopment would not be charged because one child is already paying $13,500." Others could be determined on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Connelly then agreed to return to MassDevelopment to further discuss the issue.
The second issue regarding the foreign exchange student policy concerned financial hardship. Traditionally, if a family can show financial hardship, athletic and trip fees are waived.
Connelly said that he contacted AFS, the nonprofit international exchange organization for students, in an effort to formulate a policy that provides families with hardship waivers. However, the organization said that such waivers would have to come from the students' families.
After Connelly explained that the athletic fee of $325 had already been paid by the current host family and should be reimbursed, Wright objected.
She pointed out that, since 2008, there has been a school policy in place known as JQ.
It says, unless students show a hardship, they are expected to pay the fees," she stated, adding that she felt that the committee should support and honor the policy.
When I see neighbors struggling to pay fees, I don't think it is fair for someone else like a foreign exchange student to not have to pay those fees."
Connelly then explained that because such fees for foreign exchange students were not charged in the past, the host family did not feel that it should have to pay them.
Member Bob Sullebarger suggested that, in absence of a policy, if there were a precedent, the fees be waived. "Hereafter, we will have a policy," he said.
All I could find were examples where fees were not charged," Connelly replied. "It was essentially a loose procedure where the athletic director just waived the fee. We have had only two foreign exchange students the past five years. Apparently, the fees were not charged, but there was never any official position not to charge those fees."
Said Patty Wenger, "Not paying that fee affects other kids on the team. I think it is important to treat everybody the same. We do give waivers if needed."
In the absence of a clear policy, I think this should be a one-time thing and never again," Sullebarger reiterated.
Cheveralls then made a motion that the host family submit a waiver through the proper channels. "Every child should be treated the same in this district," he said. "If we have made a poor choice by not having a policy on this issue, then we need to correct that."
Committee chair Susan Mary Redinger noted that the host family had requested a waiver based on precedent. "In the absence of having had a policy that did not specifically address exchange students, there was the expectation that the class trip and athletic fees would be waived," she said.
In this instance it would be a gesture of appreciation to the host family, and moving forward we will have a policy in place. It would stop with this policy."
Citing the potential for other fees to arise, Wright asked where the issue stops for this particular family.
Where it would stop for me would be to refund the amount already paid for this family, and from this point forward the family would have to submit a waiver stating there is a hardship. Beyond the $325, as of tonight, any future fees are subject to the waiver application based on hardship so that every family is treated the same in this district."
Cheveralls made the motion to decline the family's request to have all fees waived for the student, but also that the district refund the $325 in fees paid to date. The motion carried 3-2.