Parents of Children with Disabilities More Likely to Use Private Schools

Public school districts are bracing themselves for an increasing number of parents to ask them to fund private schools for their children with disabilities.

The reason is a recent court decision. The US Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling in favor of Tom Freston, a New York father who enrolled his handicapped son in a private school without first trying out public school programs. Freston’s public school district must pay for his child’s private schooling. By letting stand the lower court decision in Freston’s favor, the Supreme Court did not make a definitive ruling on this matter, which will no doubt keep coming up again in the next few years.

The Individuals with Disability Act requires public schools to provide free and appropriate education to all children. If a school district does not have an adequate program, parents may enroll their children in private schools with public schools funds. The problem is often the definition of the word “adequate.” For example, in an important ruling by the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta, the court sided with the public schools. In that case, parents enrolled their deaf child in a private school, which experts testified as superior to the public program. When the Circuit Court ruled that this public program was “adequate,” the public school district did not have to pay.

Only about 88,000 out of six million children in special education are in private schools at public expense, but that number is expected to go higher. The court ruling as well as a trend for children to be diagnosed with problems before they enter kindergarten is accelerating the trend toward private placements at early ages.

Kim Sweet, director of the non-profit Advocates for Children, told the New York Times that “Most of these parents are simply desperate to get their children in a placement where they are not simply going to languish.”


Military Boarding Schools

What are they?

Military schools are generally private boarding schools, either middle or high school, that are modeled after military colleges such as the United States Military Academy at West Point. Military schools are designed to provide not only a solid academic foundation but also to teach values such as honesty, self-discipline, leadership and responsibility. Teamwork is an important aspect of military school; cadets are expected to appreciate and support others toward a collective best.

Many military schools have an excellent physical education program where cadets can learn various individual and team sports. There is also daily physical conditioning through drills and exercises.

While military schools tend to have the reputation of being a good place to send a defiant child to “shape up,” in reality, most will not accept a student with serious behavioral problems. These boarding schools are highly selective and are geared toward young people who want to experience learning in the context of a military structure and values. Military boarding schools are an excellent choice for a teen needing to build self-esteem and a sense of responsibility.

A good military boarding school can prepare your child for traditional college or for a military job in the future. It can be a good place for him or her to meet others with similar values and make lifelong friendships.

Missouri Reforms Its Reform Schools to a More Effective Therapeutic Model

The state of Missouri changed its juvenile prison system into a new, more effective model that looks something like a series of therapeutic boarding schools.

Juvenile offenders, formerly housed in 6×9 cells, now live in small group homes, attend family and individual therapy, work toward degrees in small class sizes, and receive outpatient therapy when they go home. Many undergo drug or alcohol treatment programs. They often do therapeutic work in peer groups, where they open up about their pasts, family traumas, and other problems. If they adhere to rules, they receive rewards in the form of visits home, field trips, and other freedoms.

Missouri’s “gladiator prisons” now look more like college dorms, although the level of security is still high. The new arrangements allow teens to have some privacy and space for the first time in the system’s history. Juveniles now live in small groups of ten or so, and attend classes together, have communal meals, play sports, etc. The ratio of staff to juveniles is low: about one to five.

The results of the new approach are impressive.

In 2006, only 7% of Missouri teens who finished the therapeutic program were in adult prisons within three years. This compares to 75% in New York and California. No Missouri teens have committed suicide since the overhaul of the system. Nationally, more than 25 teens within juvenile systems kill themselves every year.

“This isn’t rocket science,” said Mark Steward, director of Missouri’s Division of Youth Services. “It’s about giving young people structure, love and attention, and not allowing them to hurt themselves or other people. Pretty basic stuff, really.”