Let’s make a “School Choice”
Vouchers, charters and private schools – they’re all the buzz right now, as politicians work to expand school “choice” and privatization programs. But, how much do we really know about them unless we try them? My family did! And, they weren’t the right “choice” for us.
In no way would I bash a private or charter school. They do serve a purpose, but despite what some politicians would have us believe, they are NOT for ALL kids. ALL children deserve a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), and many charter and private schools are not able to deliver that.
If a child has a disability, the only way to legally ensure his or her needs are met is through an Individual Education Plan (IEP). For those of you who have one for your child, you know that obtaining and keeping an IEP can be a time consuming and, at times, heart wrenching process.
Many of us on the battle field for our children look to escape the process, hoping for an easy fix. When I first began my search for a private or charter school, I was looking for that escape because of the constant research that comes with fighting for supports and services. I thought I could take the easy way out through the McKay Scholarship (a voucher that allows children with disabilities to attend a private school). That was a huge mistake that ended up costing us a lot of time and money. For brevity, I will include that story in a different blog.
2006 – 2007 (Our son was 3 years of age)
One of the first schools our son attended was a charter school. He was barely 3 years old. What I didn’t realize when we enrolled him were the strings attached to attending that charter school, which are similar to other charters in our state. Your child may not attend this particular school unless the parent agrees to the following:
- ALL parents are expected to volunteer 15 hours of their time at the school, AND attend trainings. That is an incredibly huge task, even for a non-working parent. The school was a 45-minute drive one way. That was three hours of driving time per day, and we had other obligations.
- The child, no matter how old, is expected to attend the entire school day, which is six hours long. (Can you imagine a 3-year old who has sensory issues and special needs attending a full day? Not just a special needs child, but any 3-year old child?)
It was difficult dealing with the Charter. They would not budge on the rules – follow them, or don’t go to their school. Since our son could not tolerate a 6-hour day, we had no “choice” other than to find a different school.
2007 – Private Methodist School – Not because we wanted to have our son practice that particular religion, but because I was looking for an escape. If your child goes to that school, you must participate in their religious practices.
Our son attended a Private Methodist pre-school. It was a phenomenal school, but I attribute a lot of that to the teacher. He was able to attend 3-4 hours per day, which was what he needed at the time. Sadly, the building was not secure in a manner that would keep ALL children safe. Public school districts are charged with the responsibility of keeping ALL children safe. Click this link to see how the Pinellas County school district is working to meet that goal. I condensed the story below, leaving out emotional details as the memory is still painful to write about.
When I came to pick our son up at the end of the day, he was roaming around inside the building while all the children were playing outside. After speaking to his teacher for a couple minutes I tried to find him, but he was nowhere to be found. Our son escaped out the fire exit door unnoticed. It was one of those doors you can get out of, but cannot get back in (for the purpose of the story I left out the details of panic, but I’m sure you can imagine how it felt). A crossing guard tending to another local school found him inches from a very busy road with high speed traffic. Lucky for us, the crossing guard found him when he did. Since our son’s speech at the time was difficult to understand, the crossing guard misunderstood him when he told him his name. Therefore there was some confusion with our 911 calls. On that day, the officer had cancelled all his doctors’ appointments, or there would have been NO crossing guard there to save him. The man is a hero. The name of the Orange County Sherriff is John O’Conner.
Still, eleven years later, our son says he remembers that day and the moment he walked out of the building. He said he was just fascinated by the cars, and didn’t know he could have been hit. Here’s a picture of the artwork he made during class that day. He was holding it when I found him on the street corner holding hands with the officer. I still have it to this day.
When I asked the school to install a fire alarm which would alert teachers if that happened again, the owner refused. I had to make another school choice. For safety reasons, we had no choice other than to enroll him in public schools.
More often than not, it is difficult to get a private or charter school to actually follow an IEP, or even other aspects of the law that public schools must follow. Many charters don’t have necessary resources for our special needs children.
Traditional public school
I worked my way through the IEP process by attending advocacy trainings and reading. The time really paid off, and our son was finally able to get the services and accommodations he needed. Our son is now 14 years old and thriving in traditional public education, and is becoming a successful advocate himself.
Sadly, the Constitution Revision Committee is trying to take public tax dollars and allow them to go toward vouchers and charter schools, further hurting our traditional public schools. You cannot have equal and parallel systems competing and expect them both to thrive. Here’s why. Public Education has been a target for privatizers for many years through the high stakes accountability system.
As amendments are proposed to our state Constitution that could fundamentally change the way our children are educated, it will be important to keep up with these amendments which may show up on the ballot this year.
This year, more than ever, we need everyone to pay attention to how the Constitution Revision Committee is trying to change Florida’s Constitution. And don’t forget to vote this year! We, the taxpayers have a say. This may be our last chance to save our traditional public schools.
“The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.”
Traditional public schools are obligated to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Charter schools are also required to provide a FAPE. However, if a charter school doesn’t have the resources to provide supports and services, they can and often do deny children access to their school. How is this school choice? It’s not.
If a child has a disability, the only way to ensure that child’s needs are met in education is through an Individual Education Plan (IEP)