Turning Away Students Seeking Special Education Services
By Laura Mason
When I found out a Great Hearts school was opening in our neighborhood, I jumped at the opportunity to enroll my twin sons, who were about to enter kindergarten. I wanted them to get a good education, and I was aware that these schools were high-performing.
The Great Hearts Archway Arete school opened near our Gilbert neighborhood in August 2015. I tried enrolling my sons and was placed in the school’s lottery system. In January, we were selected from the lottery and were invited to enroll. I called the school and asked to speak to whoever was in charge of special education services. I wanted to make sure my son who had been diagnosed with autism would get the services he needed. At the time, he had an Individualized Education Program
(IEP), which spelled out his learning needs and the services the school was to provide.
The school’s response, however, was disappointing. I was told the school could not accommodate my son and that they didn’t have the resources to serve my sons’ needs. At the time, I didn’t know much about charter schools. I thought they operated similar to private schools and, therefore, weren’t required by state and federal law to provide the same special education services as district schools.
I ended up not enrolling my sons at Great Hearts Archway Arete. Instead, I took them to the nearby district school. One of my sons did well here. But for my other son, I felt the school was not meeting his needs. I withdrew him a few months into his first grade and considered moving him to San Tan Charter School. The school told me to send in copies of his IEP and to take a tour. Not one word was mentioned on the tour about special education services, but there sure was a lot of talk about
their program for gifted students. I tried to follow up with repeated emails and phone calls but was completely ignored.
I then applied for an Empowerment Scholarship Account, thinking it would help me find a school that was the right fit for my son. One of the schools we looked at after being granted an ESA scholarship was Pieceful Solutions Charter School in Chandler. I had heard the school welcomed students with autism. I turned in the enrollment form and weeks passed. When I finally heard back, I scheduled a tour. It became clear I wasn’t welcomed there. I was told my son was too high functioning for their autism program and that there were other kids lined up behind me for whom the school was a better fit. I left Pieceful Solutions feeling rejected. The school closed a few years later. I tried looking at other schools, including some private schools, that would accept the ESA scholarship. But I couldn’t find a school where I felt my son would thrive.
After feeling like there were no options for my son in Arizona, I considered moving to the East Coast, where I heard about several schools designed for children with autism. It wasn’t until I met with the Gilbert Public Schools’ director of special education that I finally found a good school. I told her what I had experienced, and she suggested I try another district school. Heeding her advice, I enrolled my son at a district school she recommended. He’s now in second grade and is flourishing.