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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DC and Private Schools

At The Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits reports on Greg Masucci and Maya Wechsler, who are trying to get their son Max a decent education from the District of Columbia.
After cycling Max through four public schools in his short life, Greg and Maya have come to the conclusion that the District of Columbia Public Schools system doesn't have the capacity to educate their son. Federal law states that public school systems must foot the bill for private schooling for students like Max if the public schools can't give him a "free and appropriate public education."

How you define "appropriate," though, is where it gets blurry.

Last November, Max's family filed for private school funding. In January, a DCPS hearing officer denied their claim on the grounds that Max's lack of progress is not legal reason enough to grant him free tuition.

Washington, D.C., like other school districts throughout the country, is currently trying to reduce the number of special education students on the rolls of costly private schools. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has called for reducing his city's private placements by half. A document obtained by The Huffington Post shows that the district is offering incentives to public and charter school administrators who keep special education students under their roofs. But in a positive sign for special education students in D.C., the most recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that students with disabilities increased their scores by nine points in fourth grade reading and eighth grade reading and math, and by three points in fourth grade reading.

The district declined to discuss Max's case, citing privacy and pending litigation. It asserts the switch from private to public schools assuages a civil rights concern, because students with disabilities can stay in regular public schools where they can be included and not segregated. "Federal law requires that local education agencies evaluate every child at least once a year to determine whether or not they are in the least restrictive environment possible," Dr. Nathaniel Beers, a pediatrician who oversees special education for DCPS, told HuffPost. "Is there a kid in a self-contained classroom who doesn't need to be? Is this a kid who is in a more restrictive setting, like one of our self-contained school buildings?"

But many special needs advocates suspect it's an attempt to save money. For years, a court injunction compelled D.C. to place more special education students with even low or moderate disabilities in private placement. Consequently, private school tuition ate significantly into the city's school budget.