Debunking Myths About Special Education and Charters

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December 11, 2014 Too often we hear messages from politicians, local school board members, and the media that charter schools do not serve students with disabilities. Here is a different perspective--one of a parent whose child with special needs is finally in a school that helps him succeed.

Randi and her son Presley began their search for a new school when his elementary school in Natomas started segregating students with disabilities into special day classes. While Presley was able to remain in the general education setting as he was considered 'high functioning', some of his teachers used him as an assistant for the more profoundly disabled students. His good heart made this exciting for him, but it completely stalled his academic progress. At the same time, Presley's peers began realizing that he was somehow different, which resulted in months of bullying, verbal and physical abuse.

When it came time to transition to middle school, Presley's parents knew that they needed a better solution than what was offered by their neighborhood school. Randi met a parent of a child with a similar disability and learned about Natomas Pacific Pathway Charter School (NP3), a school that believes in having a strong focus on academic achievement and a zero-tolerance bullying policy.

"At NP3, Presley was welcomed and viewed as gift instead of a burden," Randi reflected. "They have embraced a culture of acceptance and kindness, and achievement in academics is valued over all else." Presley had an IEP meeting within the first two weeks of school at which every teacher, administrator, provider and service coordinator was present. The meetings started with each member of the school team telling Randi and her husband something special they had noticed about Presley. It was the first IEP meeting they ever signed without amendment.

The charter school and the district have a true collaboration to ensure that student needs are being met. However, this type of collaboration is, unfortunately, quite rare. In California, charter schools have two options for special education: operating as part of an established Local Education Agency (LEA--in most cases a school district) or as their own LEA for special education. Often, charter schools that operate as part of their school district for special education experience difficulty securing appropriate, timely and consistent special education services for their students due to the districts' own financial and staffing constraints. However, this is not the case at NP3.

"I've heard the stereotype that charter schools can't adequately serve kids with special needs," Randi said. "NP3 is destroying that concept. They demand that the District be responsive to the needs of their students and do everything necessary, even change personnel, to ensure his needs are met. This school is a gem and it will be the difference between Presley merely surviving middle school vs. him achieving everything he is capable of and everything he wants to do with his life."

Just as another parent introduced NP3 to Randi, she hopes to pass on the experience to other students like Presley. She urges school leaders to, "have zero tolerance for bullying, educate kids on tolerance of every kind, be inclusive, be diverse, and be the difference in making it a life well lived." "Presley has a lot to offer the world and so do all of the kids like him," Randi said. "Let's make sure that as a society we see and value that. If you don't know how to do it, go check out NP3. They do it better than anywhere I've ever seen."