By Cheryl Krichbaum
It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re in Atlanta or further south—people with titles have perpetuated the myth that charter schools do not accept children with special needs.
FACT: My special needs child is enrolled in a public charter school.
Not only did Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia (sister school to Cherokee Charter Academy) accept my child legally through the lottery system, but they are doing an exceptional job of working with him and with me to provide the best learning environment and the best learning opportunities for him. I couldn’t be happier.
Here’s how the enrollment process works. By law, all public schools have to accept all children, including children with disabilities, and all charter schools are public schools. Because space in charter schools is often limited, they enroll students based on a lottery system. This means that students are chosen at random (usually by a computer) until all the open seats are filled. Any remaining students are put on a wait list so that if a parent chooses not to accept the spot, the spot will be offered to the next student on the wait list.
Children with special needs are included in this process just like all other students, and the school does not know whether a child has special needs until he or she is actually enrolled in the school. It is against the law for the school to discriminate.
I am being vocal about the charter amendment for two reasons:
1. I am extremely happy with our charter school. If the school were not doing a good job, I’d be homeschooling (homeschooling rather than traditional public school because I had a bad experience at our neighborhood school) and keeping quiet.
2. I hear other special needs parents here in Georgia and across the country talk about their struggles with traditional public schools. There are a lot of individual stories of frustration, and of success, but the bottom line is that the school designated by residence may not be the right school for the child. As parents of special needs children, we need choices.