As I was scrolling through twitter, Autism Speaks mentioned of a new school in Texas called the Texas Autism Academy to specifically serve children with autism. This sparked my interest and I began learning more about this type of education setting. The Texas Autism Academy was founded by several public-school teachers to integrate Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and education to better serve children with autism who are unable to attend other schools and need a longer-term education care plan. It sounds like a great idea to combine the two services right? Especially since Medicaid does not cover ABA in Illinois, a school setting would help more students access this service. The tuition starts at $21,000 with some financial aid and prorates possible. Who should be responsible for paying this expense?
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) schools must provide free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities. Therefore, schools cannot deny a student with a disability access to their school. If the school cannot appropriately provide the needed services for the child then the school district must pay for them to attend a more appropriate school placement, then they would be expected to pay the tuition and not the parents. If the school has accommodations in place already and the parents feel it is not enough want to transfer schools, the parents can seek a tuition reimbursement through due process.
While this school sounds like a wonderful opportunity for children, could public schools begin to use this as a pawn to transfer children out of their district to save funding? Most likely not, because in the end they will still be partly responsible for the tuition cost of the child attending a private school. So they will want to keep costs as low as possible by bringing in more services to the school rather than outsourcing the student entirely. Therefore, it would come at a high cost to try to push out a student from their district.
The goals for educating children with disabilities are to be as inclusive and the least restricting environment as possible. I’ve heard a parent with children with disabilities where the school wants to place their child in full time self-contained classroom, when he was performing well with an aid in the general education class. The school said the child’s behavior was a distraction. There were many other interventions that could be done next before complete removal from a general education class, such as behavioral interventions, social skills training, or adding a teacher aid. While a specialized school may be great for some kiddos, it may be considered too restrictive for their needs. It is often easier on the child to add in additional supports such as an aid than later try to move from a self-contained classroom back to a gen-ed classroom. In addition, it is important to consider the safety of the child and the other students in the class room, but they also need to be practicing their social skills and should be able to interact and be friends with other kids their age. By not segregating classrooms, it promotes an inclusive and diverse environment. It helps all students learn how to engage with someone that may be different than them. We can’t expect a child to interact better with other children if we provide them with a limited social environment.
In the end, it comes down to the parents needing to advocate for what they think is best for their child, throughout the entire IEP process and schooling. There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of education, hopefully the school and parents came come to an agreement which is best for their student.