Over regulations in Senate Bill 5315 Threaten Services to Special Needs Children

The wellbeing of the state’s special needs children is being jeopardized  in Washington State Senate Bill 5315. The redundant and over regulation of this bill threatens to close vital services for students. These children need unique learning environments to progress and to address their cognitive,physical, and emotional disabilities.

Listen to their stories:

Ashley has such severe mental and physical disabilities that she can only be in school for two hours a day. She needs the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) of working in a one-to-one setting with a teacher.

The severely autistic Jose also requires working one-to-one with his teacher since he cannot be around more than one or two other kids at a time.

The quadriplegic Paul cannot be in a regular school since he is on a breathing machine and feeding tube.  His LRE has provided a teacher in his home teaching him to see a computer screen and type with one finger, helping him overcome a complex learning disability.

Yet if Senate Bill 5315 is enacted, the services that care for these vulnerable children will be lost.  

On January 12, 2023, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, (OSPI) Chris Reykdal, and Senator Claire Wilson dropped this bill to balance their budgets.

This bill will hamstring one of the state’s most valuable services for at-risk kids, the Specialized Special Education Schools. These private schools have served the developmentally challenged for over 46 years. They accept public school children and tax dollars. The schools work in conjunction with school districts’ Special Education departments.  Often, these departments are hampered by not having the resources to care for the special needs kids.

One of the most valuable features of the Specialized Special Education Schools is the LREs they provide for special needs kids.  The LREs (Least Restrictive Environments) are a result of the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 which required that special needs  children be placed in just the perfect learning environment. 

The specialized special ed schools are approved private schools with a non-public agency (NPA) designation. They provide the LREs that special needs kids require. They have the expertise and flexibility needed to teach vulnerable children.

Parents of children with Autism, OCD, language-based learning difficulties or other mental or physical challenges rely on the NPAs to educate their youngsters. The NPAs are qualified to provide the extra support disabled children need.

Timing of this Campaign

Opponents to the proposed bill believe that the legislative measure emerges from an article in the Seattle Times about the Northwest School of Innovative Learning, a therapeutic agency that calls itself a school.  This agency is a designated NPA-approved facility meaning that school districts can contract with it to provide services for special needs students.

The article claimed that parents, school district administrators and others have complained about the Northwest School of Innovative Learning, an NPA-approved agency,( not an approved private school even though they use the word school in their name)  The article implied that the criticism applied to all NPA-approved schools and that OSPI should have addressed these problems earlier.

Northwest SOIL is owned by a subsidiary of Universal Health Services.  Universal is one of the nation’s largest healthcare corporations. Over the five school years ending in 2021, the school received more than $38 million in taxpayer funds.

Consider this timing: on January 9, 2023, Reykdal, the Superintendent, complained about a shortfall of funds for his budget in his annual State of Schools address.

Senate Bill 5315 dropped three days later, on January 12.

If this bill is enacted, many of the schools serving special needs kids will close. Is it worth it to make a state budget look better?  Is it right to now punish the successful NPA private schools because OSPI did a poor job monitoring and ignored complaints about the agency called NW SOIL.

Specialized schools need to move quickly to address the needs of the state’s most vulnerable children, but the layers of bureaucracy in this bill will delay that ability to move fast.

Outcry from Opponents

People who work with specialized special education schools are vocal in their opposition to the bill and the risks it poses for this vulnerable population of children.

One Special Ed teacher in a Washington public school said, “I know there is a shortage of Special Ed teachers, but I will leave the field if they take away this resource from us.  We just don’t have the staffing and ability to meet this population of student needs.”

Many parents have said that access to NPA schools and to the LRE  has made a huge difference in their children’s lives and learning progress. “We were hopeless and out of options,” one parent admitted. “This school was our last resort, and it has been a lifesaver.”

A child who is a graduate of an NPA school and now in college said, “I was caught at my public school getting ready to jump off the roof.  My NPA saved my life, literally. Now I’m doing great.”

The Superintendent has admitted in the past the public schools are overwhelmed by the needs of disabled children and lack the needed services to care for them.  Why then, would he want to see 3000 special needs children be left without a school or services?  Also, if this bill passes, the school district will not comply with the Federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

IDEA guarantees free appropriate public education for eligible students with disabilities.  OSPI, in turn, is required to ensure the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for each child, so indispensable to the special needs child’s learning.

LRE allows NPA schools to tailor learning experiences according to each special needs child’s needs. LRE guides a child’s education program, often customizing learning to one-to-one teaching or a tiny class size.

The Bill will Harm Students in Crisis

Students in crisis often need immediate support; this bill would jeopardize that support, say education experts.

The State’s special education services will be compromised. The bill will also create new administrative burdens for OSPI.  Districts already perform site visits before awarding a contract to an NPA site. But if there are delays from increased visits, due to the bill, the delays would also hamper the children’s progress.

Many education experts believe that this bill would severely affect the ability of NPAs (non-public agencies) to do their job and serve special needs kids.  The WEA, Washington Education Ass. also opposes the bill. 

The bill assumes that all the NPAs are guilty of misconduct, although the investigative article focused on one therapeutic agency owned by a healthcare corporation that says it is a school, and its’ not.   It is not fair to the state’s NPAs who are working hard to serve special needs children to paint them with the same brush. These NPAs have highly trained and dedicated teachers.

Opponents to the bill call for decrying new hurdles for NPA programs. SB 5315 can only hurt special needs students. Opponents demand that the state give these children the learning environments they need to succeed in school and in life.

Act Now to Save these Schools

Voters in the state of Washington need to act now to save these specialized special ed schools. Call or email Senator Claire Wilson and OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal today to voice your opposition to SB 5315.

You cannot justify taking away services from the state’s most vulnerable children just to cut a budget. What are their priorities?

You must help now so that thousands of disabled children will not be cut off from their Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). These children’s education will be jeopardized if this occurs.



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