Maine SAD 70 superintendent Stephen Fitzpatrick speaks during the school board meeting held by the district on Oct. 12. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Two Aroostook County superintendents have reversed an earlier decision and now will allow students to attend classes outside of their native school districts next year.

After hearing pleas from multiple families, superintendents for RSU 29 in Houlton and SAD 70 in Hodgdon are no longer denying requests for superintendent agreements for students to attend school in other districts in the 2022-23 school year.

Earlier this month, nearly 100 families of students in both RSU 29 in Houlton and SAD 70 in Hodgdon were shocked to learn their requests to send their children to a different school district were being denied.

Citing a large increase in the number of superintendent agreements for the 2022-23 school year, both RSU 29 Superintendent Richard Lyons and SAD 70 Superintendent Stephen Fitzpatrick denied the majority of requests, leaving parents scrambling to make appeals with the Department of Education.

Under Maine law, a student is required to attend classes in the school administrative unit where their parents reside, where they reside when they reach age 18 or where they reside if they become an emancipated minor.

But sometimes it is in the student’s best interest to attend classes in a different school district, perhaps because one school offers programs that the other does not or a student may thrive in a smaller school setting.

Whatever the reason, two superintendents may approve the transfer, provided they both find it is in a student’s best interest and the student’s parent or guardian permits the transfer. The agreements are reviewed annually on a case-by-case basis.

And for many years, the two districts have allowed students to transfer outside of their home school district for a variety of reasons.

RSU 29 Superintendent Richard Lyons said Thursday that the decision to reverse course came after a conversation took place between himself, SAD 70 Superintendent Stephen Fitzpatrick and Deputy Commissioner of Education Daniel Chuhta to seek some type of compromise.

“Our philosophy now is, if a pre-kindergarten or kindergarten student is just starting school, they should attend their home district,” Lyons said. “If a student has been granted an agreement for let’s say 2-3 years or more, then they would be looked at favorably, for continuation in that district is important for many reasons, including continuity and consistency.”

This school year, RSU 29 has 125 students coming into the district via superintendent agreements and has 30 who attend school in a neighboring district.

For purposes of the state’s school subsidy formula, a student who is transferred under these agreements is considered a resident of the school administrative unit to which transferred.

Fitzpatrick added that it was the many meetings he had with parents that led him to change his mind regarding the transfers.

“We have since reversed several initial denials based on parent meetings and additional information concerning individual student needs,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are also reminding our resident parents that they are always welcome to engage with the excellent schools in SAD 70.”