Sent this opinion piece to the Raleigh News and Observer tonight. My heart is broken, my stomach is sick.
The state board of charter schools just recommended that the state revoke the charter for the only public school in North Carolina for special needs/exceptional children. This sounds like a bad joke from a bully’s day dream. But it’s not. It’s the truth I just found out via email from my son’s school.
Initially, the school had issues with paperwork, codes and administration. But when the team sent by the state to investigate these issues pointed them out, the school quickly righted them. This left them at a disadvantage. Because of all the back tracking and correcting of files and computer codes, the school missed out on state monies usually granted to charter schools such as this in their first year of opening.
None of this is surprising. It’s the first year for this school run mostly by parents concerned for their special needs children – exhausted, desperate, intelligent, hard working parents. They completed the extensive training, but missed crossing a couple of Ts, leaving a significant financial deficit for the year.
In January the board heard all of these facts and granted the school till May to right the financial deficit. They recommended the teachers take a pay cut. How they could recommend this, none of us understood. As parents we rallied, we pledged to pay tuition, raise funds, host a gala, a road race, a charity auction, write grants – basically, we were ready to sell our souls to keep this school open for our children. The principal even offered not to draw a salary for the rest of the year.
Because we need this school. Our kids need this school, right now and for future generations. North Carolina is seriously lacking in support for exceptional children. Under funding, over sized classrooms, a huge push for mainstreaming used as an excuse to further cut funding to special needs kids, have all left a giant hole in the system that no one can fill. Don’t believe me? Ask any of the hundreds of parents on the North Carolina Special Needs Home School email lists or clubs or boards. We gave up on the system and pulled our kids out – those of us who could anyway.
But those of us who couldn’t had to watch our children struggle in schools where they were forced to sit at a desk in often over-filled classrooms, mind numbing worksheet after worksheet put in front of them. Pull out for speech, pull out for OT, back in for everything else – most of it going right over their heads. Bullied at recess, bullied in the bathrooms, bullied at lunch – “..there is no recourse available. Just help him learn how to get through it…” These were actual words told to me by a teacher who’s hands were tied in the case of a very large student who decided to make it his duty in life to make my son’s every day a living hell.
But you can’t blame the teachers. Our teachers work their fingers to the bones for a fraction of what they should be paid. No. This goes all the way to the top.
How do I know this?
Because every suggestion to the school from the state has been met. The money is slowly trickling in, with promise of huge donations and fund raising in the next six weeks, and yet they still recommended to shut the school down.
That is the question I’ve been asking myself all night long. Why would they close this school when my son is finally happy, finally feels he is in a place where he belongs. He is finally out in the world without his mother and thriving. He is finally learning with his peers. He is growing and making friends and even leading discussions – something that would NEVER have happened in a traditional public school setting. He is finally HAPPY about going to school, in fact he even got up on a Saturday morning and was disappointed to learn it wasn’t a school day. When in the history of school has that ever happened anywhere ever?
I’m stunned, shocked, heart broken, and completely jaded now. The only answer I can come up with is one my friend suggested. The county has failed. The state is failing. And they can’t stand to see anyone else succeed because it would make their short comings glow like neon at midnight. This is a political move at its lowest. There is no concern for the children in this agenda. It’s all about the adults with jobs to protect and future ambitions to worry about.
Bravo, North Carolina. Punish the children for your faults and short comings instead of facing up to the issues and learning from your mistakes. Where is your courage? Where are all those lawmakers so dedicated to education? I’ve been fighting this battle for nine years now and I’ve seen nothing improve except the opening of more charters. But what is the point of that if you make it impossible to succeed without a huge national charter school brand name to back you up?
Yep, you’ve beat a group of exceptional children and their parents down to the ground. Bravo.