The District is opening extra public school classrooms for special education students with emotional disturbances, as part of an effort to reduce the large number of students who are sent to costly private facilities when public schools can't serve their needs.
Two classrooms, each serving 10 students, are planned for Options Public Charter School this school year. Another classroom at Eagle Academy Public Charter School is expected to accept students the following school year. In both cases, special education students whose home schools don't have adequate resources or staff to meet their needs will attend these "therapeutic classrooms" for a year or possibly longer.
Under federal law, the District must pay private-school tuition, sometimes to out-of-state facilities, for special education students when the public schools fail to meet the students' needs. D.C. school officials have been working to better serve special needs students within the public schools, as the city expects to spend $109.9 million this year to support the 1,700 students enrolled in private facilities.
By 2014, the city will have to move 598 students from private placements into public schools to meet a directive from Mayor Vincent Gray, who wanted the 2,200-student count cut in half by the end of his term.
Options is receiving $300,000, while Eagle is getting $150,000, through a grant from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education to create more learning environments
for the students within the public schools. Both already serve large special education populations.
"I believe professionally and personally that our children can be educated here and don't have to go across the country," said Donna Montgomery, the executive director of Options.
Each of the two new Options classrooms has been outfitted with computers, a Smart Board and desks, and Montgomery plans to hire a teacher, social worker and behavior crisis intervention specialist for each of the classrooms once OSSE approves her budget proposal. The students will receive counseling in addition to their daily lessons.
Audrey Williams, a spokeswoman for the DC Public Charter School Board, said Eagle is holding off on opening its classroom likely because increased enrollment has left the school with less space than anticipated.
Amy Maisterra, the assistant superintendent of specialized education at OSSE, was unavailable to comment.