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MYTH: Charter Schools Do Not Accept Children With Special Needs

A parent of a special needs child enrolled in a public charter school plays "myth buster" by stating the facts about how charter schools enroll children.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re in Atlanta or further out-state—people with titles have perpetuated the myth that charter schools do not accept children with special needs.

FACT: My special needs child is enrolled in a charter school.

Myth busted.

Not only did Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia (sister school to Cherokee Charter Academy) accept my child legally through the lottery system, but they are doing an exceptional job of working with him and with me to provide the best learning environment and the best learning opportunities for him. I couldn’t be happier.

Here’s how the enrollment process works. By law, all public schools have to accept all children, including children with disabilities, and charter schools are public schools. Because space in charter schools is often limited, they enroll students based on a lottery system. This means that students are chosen at random (usually by a computer) until all the open seats are filled. Any remaining students are put on a waitlist so that if a parent chooses not to accept the spot, the spot will be offered to the next student on the waitlist.

Children with special needs are included in this process just like all other students, and the school does not know whether a child has special needs until he or she is actually enrolled in the school. It is against the law for the school to discriminate.

I am being vocal about the charter amendment for two reasons:

1. I am extremely happy with our charter school. If the school were not doing a good job, I’d be homeschooling and keeping quiet.

2. I hear other special needs parents here in Georgia and across the country talk about their struggles with traditional public schools. There are a lot of individual stories of frustration, and of success, but the bottom line is that the school designated by residence may not be the right school for the child. As parents of special needs children, we need choices.

If you are really concerned about children with special needs, then you will advocate for school choice, which includes charter schools. For children of special needs, vote “Yes” on November 6th.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rae Harkness October 12, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Thanks for your story. I don't know why people keep claiming that Charter Schools don't accept special needs children. I am so glad you have found the right school for your son.
Holly J October 12, 2012 at 10:41 PM
No one has ever said that NO charter school accepts special needs students. The point is that charter schools CAN and in some cases DO say "We don't have the services your child needs." So, that child can still attend the charter, but would have to go to the traditional public school for whatever services he/she might need. I guess that's some of the "flexibility" that charter supporters continue to laud. TPSs don't have the luxury of saying "Sorry, we can't serve your child." They have to take all comers and figure out how to best serve them with dwindling resources.
Cheryl Krichbaum October 13, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Thank you, Rae!
Jessie October 13, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Cheryl, I am glad you found a great place for your child. I think it is misleading to imply that charter schools do not take children with special needs. Intellectual disabilites are some of the easiest children to deal with on the continuum of special needs scale. There is a wide range of services that special needs children need. I do not believe that a charter school can handle a student who has no motor skills and shows up in a wheelchair. what about a child who has a feeding tube that tries to pull it out all day? what about a child who needs to have diapers changed? what about a child who has severe emotional needs? what about the child who has emotional issues and tries to bite other children? what about he child who makes animal noises all day long? These student may go through the process of being in the lottery, but can the school truly meet their needs when the student shows up at the door? Special teachers, therapists and parapros are needed to deal with these students and it takes a ton of money. I know famiies that have been told by charter school admins,"at this time, we can not make all the modifications and accomodations that your child needs." Traditional public schools do not have that option.
ASHJAY October 13, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Thank you for sharing your touching story Cheryl. I'm so happy for you and your son that you found a school that is meeting his needs, and giving him a chance for success in a public environment. As far as the comments about TPSs not having the same options. Charter schools do have more methodical freedoms than TPSs and thank goodness they have the freedom to be honest with parents and say when they cannot meet a child's needs. The fact is TPSs cannot meet all the needs either, but have to stay mum about it while failing the child. This is exactly why we need choices and alternates to TPSs in GA!
Cheryl Krichbaum October 13, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Holly and Jessie, Although I do agree with you that charter schools usually do not accommodate all special needs, I must also point out that what was said by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus is that charter schools do not accept children with special needs. The same was also said by Frank Farmer, who is on the Coweta County Board of Education. These statements are both false and misleading. Let me go further to say that traditional public schools get funding specifically to help children with special needs, as do public charter schools. It is misleading to say that traditional public schools "have to deal with" special needs "with dwindling resources." And to emphasize my point, not every school is right for every child. Children are getting ignored because they aren't disabled enough or because the school doesn't know what to do or because the culture of the school is not supportive of special needs or whatever reason you want to insert. SCHOOL CHOICE is what we need, and charter schools are a good first step. Also, to say that passing the charter school amendment is going to hurt traditional public schools, either because of money issues or a sudden flock of all the "good students" to charter schools and away from traditional public schools, is wrong and misleading. Charter schools are not always the best choice because every kid is different.
Cheryl Krichbaum October 13, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Very well put, Ashjay!
No More Bullies October 16, 2012 at 08:23 PM
National statistics show children with special needs are underserved by charter schools. This is one of the ways charter schools are able to spend less money per child, because they do not have the same higher-cost population. When you don't provide the same services (school nurses, transportation, full spectrum of special needs servcies), why on earth would you expect the same funding? And don't get me started on English Language Learner populations.... Cheryl, the question you should ask is does your charter school's enrollment accurately reflect the community it serves? Coweta has 10% special needs enrollment, 16% EIP enrollment, and 9% remedial education. How does your school compare? http://www.policyinsider.org/2012/06/new-government-report-shows-under-enrollment-of-students-with-disabilities-in-charter-schools.html
Jim Beam October 16, 2012 at 08:54 PM
A simple google search shows children with special needs aren't being served that well by traditional public schools either, regardless of how many billions are being spent there: http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=29135&w=5&cn=2
Cheryl Krichbaum October 17, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Thank you, Steely Dan! I couldn't have said it better myself.
Cheryl Krichbaum October 17, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Steely Dan answered your statement quite well. My only addition is that that is not my question. My question is whether the school is meeting my child's needs. If it isn't, then I want options, that is, I want school choice. I am quite grateful that I have Coweta Charter Academy, Odyssey Charter School, and the two online charter schools as options. Without the amendment, my options dwindle.
No More Bullies October 17, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Steely Dan's attempted point is not about enrollment, it is about services. Your post, Cheryl, is to "debunk a myth" specifically about enrollment. Public schools enroll EVERY child who comes to their door, regardless. Charter schools do not, whether by enrollment cap, counseling out, diversion, or a lack of services. You will still have the same options after the amendment as you do now-- the for-profit companies like Charter Schools USA may choose to leave Georgia if the amendment does not pass (funny how it's all about the kids until their profit margin narrows), but the charter board can hire another management company or the parents can run the school themselves.
Cheryl Krichbaum October 17, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Let's not pretend that any school -- traditional or charter -- provides all services to all kids to best meet their individual needs, whether because of enrollment or because of educational techniques/IEPs/etc. They don't. They may be required to, but they don't. To meet the needs of kids, whether with disabilities, medical issues, or no issues, we need choices -- school choice. Choice is limited here in Georgia. Passing the amendment provides more choice. I do not have the same choices if the amendment is voted down because I don't have full funding for my child. My child would be 60% funded whereas the child next door would be 100% funded. As for Charters USA, they are the best! I am so very happy with them, too. The criticism they have received for facilitating quality education at a more affordable price than what the traditional schools can do just baffles me. I have no problem with a company being mindful of profit. In my experience in working for for-profit companies and government agencies, for-profit companies are far less wasteful. In addition, without the amendment, the current process of getting State Dept of Education approval is in danger of being shut down because of the 4-3 GA Supreme Court decision. That opens the State DOE to litigation. That does NOT benefit my children or anyone else's.
Jim Beam October 18, 2012 at 03:52 AM
No More bullies, your attempted point was about services. You even use the word "underSERVED" in your failed attempt. If charters were able to spend the per-child $$$ that the traditional public schools are, they'd have busing. As for the 'full spectrum of special needs services', the TPS model doesn't have those either. I know of several parents with special needs children who complain constantly how their child is basically ignored in their public school and "being taught nothing". The TPS model may be accepting any child, (though that's not true either) but they're not providing the full-spectrum of special-needs services to their spec-ed children. I don't think the solution for special-needs children lies within the TPS model to be honest. That model has got enough work cut out for it just providing remedial education for non-spec-ed kids...and it's not doing a bang-up job at that in too many counties across GA and America. If our public schools are barely providing remedial skills for millions of college-bound students (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-11/college-is-no-place-for-remedial-education.html), they're certainly going to have problems teaching spec-ed children. Throwing more money at this failed model won't help - We need to come up with a new model as the # of spec-ed students grows. Neither a NO nor YES vote to 1162 will change that reality but a YES vote at least gives hope to parents of spec-ed children trapped in failing schools.
John Konop October 22, 2012 at 11:14 AM
I am glad this has worked out well for your child. The macro question is charter schools argue that they provide a cheaper eduction. When you normalize for services in Cherokee County the charter school cost more. I have talk with many pro amendment people who think it is ok because if they get what they want than it is ok. The debate on this point is should our schools provide AP classes, transportation, all special needs services, sports, band........? The pro charter amendment people leave this out of their budget when comparing themselves to public schools. Let's all get real about the debate.
Cheryl Krichbaum October 30, 2012 at 05:31 PM
John, Thank you for your comment. I love the real discussion about charter schools. For me, the real debate is about whether we're going to provide more choice for our children or whether we're going to insist that one size fits all. If a school is not working for a child, the parent should have the option to find a school that will work. We need more choices. Many local school districts are not interested in providing more choices, as evidenced by good applications being turned down.
Frank Jones October 30, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Good applications bring turned down is a subjective statement. Quantitative analysis that charters more often perform worse or the same as traditional schools is fact backed by evidence. We need to leave the, "i believe" out of this debate and look at the facts. Facts are that as a whole, charters are not the solution for improving education for all children.

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