Time Education Center

Time for Charters to Lead on Special Education

Image of a lifeboat
This is personal for me. I have firsthand experience being told that the boat is too full for my family.

My son wasn’t disruptive and didn’t need specialized instruction when we were shopping for kindergarten. But he did need some flexibility and understanding from his teachers, as well as a warm, caring, and intellectually stimulating environment. Lacking a charter school option here in Washington, we first turned to private schools. School after school told us that he just wasn’t a good “fit.”

We tried public schools that had special programs for my son but they didn’t serve him well. Finally, we bullied our way into a great public school that had discouraged us on the basis of “fit.” Once there, my son thrived and the administrators admitted that they had been wrong. Not only did he “fit, ” he was an asset to the school. They loved him. Yes, teachers had to stretch sometimes and figure out new approaches to instruction and discipline, but far from compromising their classrooms, they felt it strengthened their teaching and the other kids’ humanity.

What I’ve learned, and what countless other parents have no doubt learned, is that “fit” is hard to predict. Sometimes parents know best. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes schools have legitimate concerns for not taking a student, such as lack of expertise or capacity. But often there are darker dynamics at play. It’s easier to exclude one family than to explain a disruptive incident to 400 families. It’s also just a lot easier for teachers and principals to serve kids who don’t need extra attention. All too often, public, private, and public charter schools send the soft message that kids with significant differences are not welcome.

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