D.C. Parents Decry Move to Shift Special-Ed Students

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dozens of parents, teachers and advocates have pledged to fight D.C. public school plans to pull children receiving special education services from a long-running private school in Virginia.

During a meeting Friday, parents praised Accotink Academy and said city officials' accusations that the school wasn't serving its students are untrue.

"They're claiming they have our children's best interests at heart," said Barbara Elmore at the meeting at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Anacostia, which drew more than 150 people.

Elmore said her 18-year-old son has attended the academy for a decade. She said that she didn't understand why the school was being targeted and that teachers there had treated her son "like he was their child."

"If I was not able to get him into Accotink Academy, my child right now would probably be dead or in jail," she said.

D.C. school officials have said that the quality of the teachers at the Springfield school is "quite low" and that students spend too much time outside the classroom, either in punishment or in therapy that the officials believe could be done in class.

Accotink Academy, which has worked with District students for more than 15 years, received an e-mail last week from Richard Nyankori, the District's deputy chancellor for special education, who informed the school that 170 students were being pulled in the coming weeks. Accotink officials said losing the D.C. students would force the school to close.

The District has nearly 9,300 special education students, including those in public charter schools, and about 30 percent of them are enrolled in private schools because the District can't meet their needs. The cost to taxpayers in tuition and transportation is about $200 million a year.

In the past year, the District has stepped up efforts to reduce special education expenses, although it said in a letter to parents that Accotink students would be able to continue to attend private schools.

The students will be shifted as parents meet with staff members to determine the best place to send them, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said last week.

Parents who attended Friday's meeting are organizing against plans to reassign the students. The walls of the chapel where they met were festooned with protest signs, one of which said, "Fenty gets to choose for his children -- we get to choose for ours."

(The signs were referring to D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who enrolled his twins in one of the District's most sought-after elementary schools instead of the one in his Crestwood neighborhood in Northwest.)

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company