Public school pays $101,972 to send Akron student to private school

Jul 29, 2014 by

On Monday, the Akron school board approved $101,972 to educate one student for one year.

The student attends the Monarch School, a private school resting on 32 acres in Cleveland where educators give one-on-one instruction to children and adults with autism in an environment tailored to their needs.

There, lockers don’t slam.

Lighting is agreeable.

Speech pathologists are readily available.

And the curriculum consists of evidence-based practices touted by the school’s parent organization.

“It’s kind of a kinder, gentler environment — which is often necessary for these kids,” said Beth Pollack, director of Organizational Advancement for Wingspan Care Group, the school’s parent organization.

Meanwhile, Akron Public Schools has shifted money from its general fund to pay the private school $84,500 in annual tuition. It could continue to do so, per state law, until the student turns 22 years of age and is no longer eligible for a free public education.

“The majority of our students are paid through the school district,” Pollack said.

A loophole

Normally when parents wish to take a child with autism out of a public school and enroll at a private school, a $20,000 Ohio scholarship helps with associated costs. And the public school district of residence pays nothing.

But in this case, the parent challenged Akron Public Schools nearly six years ago, arguing that the Monarch School is better suited to educate and care for the child.

The case, as happens with some due process hearings, could have evolved into a lengthy legal battle, costing the public school time and money.

“You have to look at whether it’s good to continue fighting or not,” said Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams, who served as director of special education six years ago.

McWilliams believed then, as she believes now, that Akron Public Schools is both “fiscally conservative and effective” when educating any student.

“We feel unbelievably confident in what we have,” McWilliams said.

“We can accommodate any and all kids.”

Akron schools administrators said a district its size has enough students with varying physical, emotional and learning disabilities to fill special needs classrooms, efficiently hire specialists, maintain adequate teacher-student ratios and partner with public and private health providers — all necessary to facilitate an appropriate education.

But as a result of the challenge, Akron was not determined to be the best place for the child.

And because federal law affords special needs students an appropriate education, “We have to make it happen,” said Karen Liddell-Anderson, director of special education.

‘Not very common’

“It’s not very common,” said Rhonda Porter, Akron schools’ attorney. “But remember, we have a duty to provide a free and appropriate public education. Sometimes an outside school is the appropriate school, and — by law — we are required to pay for that.”

The student’s parents or caregivers, who could not be immediately contacted because student records are sealed, would have to pay $81,792 out of pocket after applying for and receiving the state’s $20,000 autism scholarship.

By challenging Akron schools, though, tuition is paid in full. And the parent receives $17,472 annually to transport the child from Akron to Cleveland each day.

The state gives Akron $32,850 when it considers a student to be severely disabled.

via Public school pays $101,972 to send Akron student to private school in Cleveland – Local – Ohio.

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