By Brandon Dutcher
Special to The Sun
An Oklahoma scholarship program for special-needs children is once again under attack.
“A motley crew of plaintiffs has filed a lawsuit asking the Oklahoma courts to toss out the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for students with disabilities,” writes Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos. “This renewed attempt to sever a lifeline for a small group of disabled students is vindictive because these plaintiffs know that these children suffered horribly in public schools. The program enables these children to escape an environment of bullying, ineffective instruction, and profound neglect and find specialized schools where they can blossom and reveal the beauty of their true nature.”
One of the plaintiffs, longtime public-school superintendent Clarence G. Oliver Jr., professes not to understand why any parent would want to choose anything other than a public school. After all, “there are steps all along the way for parents to appeal” if they’re not satisfied with their public-school experience, he told Dan Thomas of KOCO-TV, the ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City. “The special education program offered in public schools, in my opinion, is superior to anything that they’ll find in the private schools.”
That’s an odd claim (given that only 6 of every 100 Oklahoma fourth-graders with disabilities are proficient readers), and it’s certainly not persuasive to several parents of special-needs children. Parents such as Tom Farrell, who writes in the Tulsa World: “Only a truly challenged child, who needs more help than the public schools can provide to become independent and productive, would motivate a parent to take them to a special-needs school far from their own neighborhood. Merely visiting Town and Country School produces an emotional response in any normal parent. Sweet, gentle-hearted children who simply weren’t prospering in public schools are getting the love, help, and affirmation that they desperately need from teachers and peers. … It is a godsend for them.”
To see for yourself what Mr. Farrell means, just go to YouTube and type in “Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Stories.”
Or consider the words of Robert and Cathy Hansen, the loving grandparents of Dylan Pennington, who uses a Henry scholarship to attend Trinity School in Oklahoma City: “Dylan has been diagnosed as autistic (on the spectrum), dyslexic, and dysgraphic. Dylan previously attended an Oklahoma City Public School where he was under an IEP (Individualized Education Program) from age 3 to 9. Each year he attended this school, he seemed to fall farther and farther behind, both educationally and socially. He received very little help with his learning difficulties and absolutely no help with socialization issues. He did receive strong support at home with completion of homework and other tasks but that was not enough. The educational system was failing him.
“Meetings were held regularly on the IEP and steps were agreed on but never taken. More meetings were held and changes to the IEP were discussed but never made and again there was no action. The last year he was in a public school he was assigned to a teacher who was rarely in the classroom. He had a series of substitute teachers and subsequently no consistency in his class environment. We saw our grandchild becoming a truly lost child, falling through the cracks in the educational system.
“Our daughter was so upset she considered homeschooling Dylan but then she learned about Trinity School. She enrolled him at Trinity and applied for the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship. In the time since, we have watched him thrive not only academically but socially. His birthday parties are now filled with the happy sound of children’s laughter and excitement and no longer are disappointing events where few if any of the invited children bother to attend. We almost immediately observed a major difference in how he socializes with us and with others. He has learned skills that most children seem to know almost automatically but that he needs to be carefully taught.
“We now have hope that our grandson will not have to go through life as a rejected and dismissed person but as a fully functioning and contributing member of society.”
Sadly, the plaintiffs are unmoved. As Spiropoulos explains, “the lawsuit is driven by the education establishment’s furious need to destroy any initiative, no matter how necessary or successful, that it perceives will cost it funding.”
Unfortunately, as KOCO-TV reports, “this group that’s suing to stop that scholarship fund, they say that they’ve got an unlimited amount of funding for the legal battle — they’re willing to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes to stop this scholarship from helping out special-needs kids.”
BRANDON DUTCHER, an Edmond resident, is senior vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. His columns have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, the Tulsa World, Forbes.com, and in 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S.