The System is Broken

With Shane in Utah, we’ve been scrambling to put together a plan to begin after his discharge on December 20. We are thrilled that he’ll get to be home for Christmas provided all continues to go well.

We had a meeting with the team at our local school last Wednesday. They put together an amended IEP (Individualized Education Program) which is a document that dictates accommodations that must be made for a student with a disability. After Shane only being allowed to attend school for 2.5 hours per day since August, the IEP team agreed that they cannot adequately provide him with the services he needs locally and they recommended placement outside of the district in a more restrictive environment. With that written into the IEP, it means the district is responsible for the tuition at a facility that can accommodate him and his needs. After all, it’s their recommendation.

We knew that the IEP team was leaning toward an outside placement as it had been discussed at prior meetings and had already hired an educational consultant to find a program for Shane. After many applications, inquiries and hours of research, he was accepted into the program at King’s Daughters in Tennessee. There are zero programs in the Carolinas to meet his needs and those of others like him. I visited King’s Daughters on Tuesday. It’s an amazing program for kids on the spectrum and those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. We are excited about the opportunities for him with regard to his continuing care and education. We felt relief knowing we’d found a promising solution.

Yesterday, we were informed that the local district is only willing to provide the portion of costs attributed to the day school which is $32,700. The total tuition for the residential program on an annual basis is $72,700. Yes, it’s an exorbitant amount of money and out of reach for most families. Believe it or not, most schools that can service a child with Shane’s needs range from $96,000-$150,000 per year so $72,000 seems like a bargain.

So, that presents an interesting quandary. The district has said they CAN’T provide Shane with an adequate education and that we should seek placement outside of the district. After hiring an educational consultant, we found a program that will meet his needs as directed by the district. Now, the district only wants to pay less than half after we were told they would pay for placement. I have many questions:

1) How does the district think he can attend the day program without living there? It’s 6.5 hours from home. The nature of the programs is designed to educate 24/7.

2) With the median income in Lancaster County being $46,800, how many families are there in need of these services that can afford to take the district’s contribution of $32,700 and write a check for the additional $40,000 annually when they are refusing services locally?

3) Is their recommendation simply a way of ridding the school district of the responsibility to provide a child with disabilities access to an education hoping that we’ll just settle for homeschooling him?

4) Other districts are funding 100% of the tuition at King’s Daughters for students so why can’t our district?

We’ve never sought public education for him. He was in private school until age 9 and homeschooled with tutors for the last three years. As a result of the determination of the district, we’ve contacted an attorney and will fight for our child’s education and that of other families of children with special needs. It’s a vicious cycle. The child doesn’t receive an adequate education, has no way of even remotely supporting themselves independently and ends up on public support as an adult.

With the loss of an education comes the loss of self-determination and the sense of fulfillment and purpose setting them up for a lifelong struggle, poverty and depression. We owe our children more. We owe families more. And, we owe society and the future generations more.

Recent studies have shown that the incidence of autism is now one in forty. It was estimated at one in 58 just two years ago. Picture that. One in forty kids is on the autism spectrum. This is an epidemic. The world must slow down and take a look at the long-term effects of not serving this community to the maximum benefit. The system is broken. We must fix it.

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