School vouchers: The vital reason I won't send my autistic son to private school

School vouchers: The vital reason I won't send my autistic son to private school

Dad Talk

School vouchers: The vital reason I won't send my autistic son to private school

 

I decided against the knee-jerk post. I’ve learned it is best sometimes to wait a spell before I make up my mind on things.

For me, the grand school-vouchers debate of 2017 has proven to be one of those times.

But that’s all over with. I waited to see what lawmakers were proposing. I waited for Arizona’s governor to have his say and for federal education officials to make their case.

I even waited for somebody, anybody, to address the elephant in the room when it comes to the needs of children and families like mine.

It never came. So that’s why we’re here today.

Abandoning public school?

Let’s put aside the issue of cost. Obviously many families won’t have thousands of dollars lying around to cover the extra expenses that would come with enrolling my son in the voucher program and sending him to a private school like tuition gaps, fees, and transportation costs.

I’m baffled by the notion that anybody who supports expanding vouchers – Senate Bill 1431 in Arizona – would fail to realize that families with children typically referred to as special needs have to give up their children’s rights for the opportunity to pay thousands of dollars for a private education.

It’s an education argument being held all over the country with the U.S. Department of Education going full steam ahead with expanding voucher programs.

Federal protections

You see, private schools don’t have to abide by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Yes, mainstream private schools can offer accommodations and assistance if they choose to. There are some services they can provide in conjunction with public school districts. But that’s still less than what is required of public schools and not always guaranteed.

One example is comparing a private school’s “written plan” to a public school’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is comprehensive and can be weaponized by parents fighting for their children.

So why in the world would I send my autistic son to a school free of federal regulations that mandate he get an equal opportunity for an education?

And I do know that families have been taking children with disabilities to private schools for years and that some of those families have found success. That’s a great thing. I’m just here letting parents new to the idea know that our children lose protection when we make that change.

Why make it harder to advocate for my son?

Why would I give up my rights under a Supreme Court-affirmed law that protects him, and is our only tool to fight on his behalf?

Does this make sense to anybody? Anybody?

Already, it’s challenging just to convince public school officials to follow the law. Parents have become quasi-attorneys on IDEA in order to be vocal and effective advocates for their children during the IEP process.

Now lawmakers think I’m going to just turn my son over to a private school that isn’t really required to do anything — and, at best, could do less?

Oh, yeah, and you think I’m going to pay thousands of dollars to do it?

Louie Villalobos is a parenting blogger and digital producer for azcentral and allthemoms.com. You can follow him on Twitter @louievillalobos and find his podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play. Just search for “I am your father.”

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