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'Our kids are broken'

Episcopal Center's roots in the District reach back 115 years, when it began as a convalescent home for tubercular children. It evolved into an orphanage and, finally, into a treatment facility for kids with severe emotional disturbances. Episcopal Center is also one of the reasons underlying the District's decision to back away from imposing a new rate structure that would limit tuition payments for D.C. special education students attending private schools at public expense. The revised rates were originally scheduled to take effect this fall, but the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) agreed to reconsider them after hearing from parents and educators. Any changes in rates will not be effective until next July.

One voice that got their attention was Alan Korz, Episcopal Center's executive director. Forty-five of his 63 students come from public schools in the District that could not meet their needs, and Korz said the new rates posed a threat to the school's long-term ability to treat D.C. children.

He said the proposed $215 a day maximum--about $38,700 for a 180-day school year-- would create a gap of about $45 a day per student. The only way to make it work, Korz said, would be to lay off staff that are needed to help fulfill the children's IEPs (individual education plans, the legal document setting out their program of care and instruction). Nearly all of them, in the K through 6 age range, have already spent time in psychiatric hospitals. They require close and constant support, Korz said, one of the reasons that the center is open 11 months of the year.

"Our kids are broken," he said. "They can't do well in large groups in a public education setting or the offerings that D.C. has to provide."

The District spends about $280 million a year on private special ed placements, a vast sum for a city of its size. Officials have said they are not convinced that D.C. taxpayers or students, are getting their money's worth from some of the private schools. But Tameria Lewis, OSSE's assistant superintendent for special education, said the loss of Episcopal would be a blow to the special education system. She called the school "a textbook example" of the kind of facility the District needs.

"No one in the District of Columbia wants to lose a resource such as Episcopal Center," Lewis said.

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By Bill Turque  |  July 22, 2010; 10:29 AM ET
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I wish this story were on the front page; so many people live in a cacoon protected from the realities of raising and teaching severely disabled children.

In addition to the incredible work the Episcopal Center does, many of the other special education schools have children that are multiply handicapped - learning disabilities may be cited as primary, for example, but the children may have accompanying life-threatening ailments (heart disease, lupus,severe allergies), physical disabilities, emotional issues, etc. that make functioning in a typical classroom all but impossible.

The toll on families is tragic; the divorce rate in families who have a special needs child is twice that of the national average.

It is just a crime - a crime - that a supposedly strong nation such as ours
continues to squabble over truly desperate needs of its own young citizens.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | July 22, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

For many or most of the special education students referred to private schools - 215 a day would severly stress their resources.

Posted by: aby1 | July 22, 2010 11:53 PM | Report abuse

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