A Response to Riley’s Ridiculous Free Press Article on Charter Schools’ Special Education Services

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There was a piece published by Detroit Free Press recently written by Rochelle Riley, in which she calls charter schools “private businesses that discriminate” when it comes to special education.

I found this article to be incredibly misleading, and quite honestly, unsettling. As a parent and someone who works with kids, the points made in this piece are counterparts to who I am and what I believe for kids. I – along with many, many others – work really hard to make sure every kid gets any and every opportunity.

With experience in both the traditional and charter school sector, I can speak with certainty that much like a traditional school, charter schools are public schools. As public schools, they are required to accept every student who applies, no matter their circumstance.

Here is my response to this article.

Dear Rochelle,

According to your article, charter schools in Michigan deliberately discriminate against students with special needs by refusing enrollment to these students.

This is far from the truth.

While, yes, it’s clear that there is a difference in percentages of special education students in traditional public schools versus charter schools, there’s more to the story than what meets the eye.

The truth is that each year the gap between the percentage of special education students at charter schools and the percentage of special education students at traditional public schools gets smaller. Each year, charter schools work to provide more options for students with special needs. By doing this they begin to appeal to parents of special needs students.

This gap will continue to close each year as schools like Bradford Academy in Southfield, Michigan, for example, work with the local ISD to ensure that through cooperation they can provide unique services for kids. Each week, a consultant for the visually impaired comes to Bradford Academy to work with students who need services because of a visual impairment. Bradford Academy didn’t refuse or discriminate at enrollment; they determined the services that best fit the needs of the child and took the proper steps to make sure it happened.

It’s safe to say that you strayed from the reality of the current issue by referencing a parent’s experience twenty years ago with an autistic child.

Twenty years ago all – yes, all – schools struggled to provide services for students with autism, even the public school system. As in the case of this parent’s testament, the first school that this student was asked to leave was a magnet school that was part of the traditional public school system. Many traditional public schools develop magnet schools to attract the best and the brightest in order to fill the seats within their district with the best of the best.

Your article references the student who was not accepted into the local charter school around the year 1995. The Charter School Bill was not signed until January of 1994 by Michigan Governor John Engler, which cleared the way for 9 charter schools to open across the state in the fall of 1994. These young and developing schools would have struggled to have the same capacity as their established traditional counterparts. Since then, charter schools have matured. They service students with speech and language disorders, cognitive impairments, emotional impairments, learning disabilities and any other need.

The truth of the matter is that traditional public schools do this as well. Our public schools seek to fill seats in their system with “School of Choice” students from outside their district, but first screen or review files to ensure that these students won’t cost anything extra because of any special needs they may have.

I breathed a sigh of relief to hear that you’re a clear advocate of choice for parents. This is one point where we agree.

Parents deserve to have a choice about what is best for their child. Since you arrived on the scene in Detroit in 2000, you wrote many times about the woes of the Detroit Public Schools. Now, you’re taking the same fact that parents should have school of choice and throwing it under the bus. How does this type of journalism help the education system you profess to be an advocate for? It doesn’t. In my opinion, these types of articles are only meant to sell papers and create traffic to your voice online.

Sincerely,
Chris Ruiter, Believer in what’s best for kids…

So, what can we learn from all of this?

Choice is available to parents at charter schools and each year it matures and improves. If you’re a parent of a special needs child, I encourage you to continue being their best advocate BUT also be willing to work with your school. It takes a team. Please don’t let the shadow cast by an irresponsible journalist darken your understanding of what is real and best for kids.

For an additional perspective, read MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry’s response to Rochelle Riley’s article.

1 Comment

  • David Ohman says:

    As a long time Freep reader I long ago realized that Ms Riley does not let facts get in the way of a story. I called her on a prior article that lumped issues in Port Huron with the Detroit. No correction was ever issued and Ms Riley pretty much refered to me as a “hater”. Your measured response was excellent. I only hesitate as it gives Ms Riley relevance.

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