How Can Charter Schools Do Better By Special Needs Students?

Special needs students are often the most expensive to serve, and often end up staying in traditional public schools.

Jake Neher/WDET

The controversy surrounding charter schools in Detroit and around the country has a lot to do with the students and resources they take from traditional public schools. But it also has to do with students they tend not to take.

The most expensive students to take on often include special needs students, who often end up staying in traditional public schools.

But there are also plenty of questions about the education special needs students get when they do go to charters. Although they’re supposed to accept and educate special needs students, many charters contend they don’t have the proper resources to do so.

Others, like Matchbook Learning charter schools, are making an effort to do better by these students.

Sajan George is the CEO of Matchbook Learning, a non-profit charter operator which runs Michigan Technical Academy in Detroit and Redford, as well as Merit Preparatory Charter School in Newark, NJ. He joins Detroit Today along with Bridge Magazine reporter Chastity Pratt Dawsey to talk about how charters are doing with special education and how they can improve.

“You should never, ever turn away a child,” even if you don’t have the resources to meet their needs, says George. “In fact, you’re not legally able to do that.”

“You have to turn over every rock and you have to be creative,” he continues. “But we have to provide those children those services, regardless the cost of those services. We have to do that without exception.”

“We personalize an individual learning pathway for every student, special ed and not. And that’s actually the way we address both special ed kids and non-special ed kids,” says George.

But Pratt Dawsey says many charter schools in Detroit find ways to keep special education students out of their buildings.

“The charter schools might not necessarily say, ‘well, you can’t come here.’ But they’ll say, look, we don’t have those services but down the street they do,” she explains.

To hear the full conversation, click on the audio player above.


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