Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Do Special Needs Need Vouchers

The battle over the proposed - and now suspended - voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado has generated some serious discussion about the needs of students and the right of choice in schools and how tax dollars are spent. As I've noted before, Douglas County struck some as an unusual place for a voucher program - as it is one of the richest counties in the USA, and it's students are not trying to escape failing schools. Thus, the issue is all about freedom of choice - though Colorado already has statewide open enrollment. Thus, the issue is really about using public dollars to choose a private and/or religious education. However, in the testimony for the district's plan, one interesting claim was made by a woman who claims her son's special needs require a private school. So, that's a new angle.

Resident Diane Oakley appealed to the district to pass this voucher plan because her son has special needs - Asperger's syndrome. Oakley claims she needs the voucher to pay the $17,000 tuition at a private school called Humanex Academy - as that is the school that can meet the needs of her son. I am curious about this assertion. As a public school teacher, I know that her son's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome qualifies him for special service under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thus, in Douglas County Schools, he would have a case manager and a specialized instruction program to assist him in fully accessing his right to a free and public education. Certainly, a well-funded school system like DC is going to have all the necessary support for students with special needs. And, if a public school cannot provide for a students needs under the law, families can file suit for additional support. Thus, I am wondering why this parent believes that only this private school can meet her son's needs.

Over the years I have had numerous students with Asperger's Syndrome, as well as numerous other conditions such as ADD, ADHD, anxiety disorder, sensory processing syndromes, etc. At every school I know, there are qualified personal to assist students with these struggles. I've had students with these conditions - including Asperger's - in my basic level classes that have been team taught, and I've had them in my honors and AP classes. Thus, I have no doubt that public schools - especially high quality schools like DC - can provide every angle of support to assist students in accessing their education. However, occasionally parents will feel like their child needs even more than the school provides. At those times, students do pursue private alternatives. However, that decision is personal, and I'm not sure the public schools have to support that perspective. Certainly, any parents can file with districts if they believe that the school can't provide for a legally recognized disability.

Thus, the idea of a voucher being necessary for special needs students is questionable in my opinion.


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Well, some relatively minor disabilites discussed here. Sorry, Aspies and people with ADHD and all that are hardly disabled at all. Try having a kid who is 10 or 12 and doesn't use the bathroom, but MIGHT learn if you get him to just the right autism school. Seriously.

I have four children on the spectrum and most of them don't need $pecial $pecial stuff. (Maybe a resource class here and there, no biggie.) But one DOES.

And here's the thing: that child went from speaking three words - THREE WORDS! - to now putting three words together *at a time.* In a year and a half, with the school and I working very closely together, we were able to accomplish this. Maybe on paper that doesn't sound like a big deal, but means the difference between being able to say "tummy hurt" and just screaming for hours/ no one figuring out what is wrong...

Our district *happens* to have a special communication (code word for "autism") classroom. But what if it didn't? Would you consign these kids to never speaking or using the bathroom? Shouldn't they contract that more specialized work out?

Sometimes the schools really DO NOT have what they need and in those cases I think it's reasonable to look at whatever is going to work (vouchers or not/I could care less).

Aspies? Bah. A little extra help that likely costs little to nothing. I get annoyed by stuff like this because it turns people like you who might otherwise be tenderhearted advocates for the disabled against the very idea that just sometimes we have to be unfair to give someone a fair chance. :)

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Another side issue, though... I should rather have a delivery model for disabilities that matches what is given in the 0-3 range. They do not assume that the classroom is the least restrictive environment, and with an IFSP, the therapists come to YOUR HOUSE.

Anyway. Just saying it doesn't HAVE to be a school issue/ us vs. them thing if the funding and administration were entirely separate.

mmazenko said...

At my public high school we have numerous students who are on the neediest end of the spectrum like your one. That has been true at both of the middle class high schools where I teach. The curriculum is a basic life skills curriculum. The schools need to provide education to all special needs - it's mandated by law. If the needs are so extreme that schools can't provide it, they must pay for the student to receive it elsewhere. That's been the law for as forty years. Thus, I would again question the need for vouchers in this area - especially the women in the Douglas County.