Battle For Special Needs Student Funds Continues At Jenks And Union Schools

Thursday, October 7th 2010, 6:12 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

UNDATED -- The controversy continues over the rights of special needs students as two Green Country school districts refuse to honor a new law providing public funding for special needs kids who want to attend private school. Jenks Public Schools and Broken Arrow Public Schools are not backing down from their decision, and all signs now point to a looming legal battle.

Jenks Public School administrators say their special education programs have developed a sterling reputation over the years.

They say parents have even moved into the district to take advantage of its resources.

"We meet the needs of students very well, and have been known for many years for special education at the district," said Lisa Muller, Jenks Assistant Superintendent.

But parents of special needs students who think they're children would fare better at a private school are now supposed to be allowed to send them to one. House Bill 3393 was signed into law earlier this year.

10/6/2010 Related Story: Lawmakers Say Two Tulsa County Schools Not Complying With State Law

Parents who wish to move their special needs children to a private school can now do so, and the district is required to pick up most of the tab.

But the school board at Jenks, as well as Broken Arrow, has decided that the new law violates the State Constitution.

"We do not disagree with parent's individual right to choose a private school for their children if they believe that's the better option, but our concern is just taking those public funds with them," Muller said.

"We were all so pumped about the idea that now it's almost like the dream's going to be crushed, said Tony Lightcap, father of a special needs student.

Lightcap says he struggles daily to meet the needs of his 13-year-old autistic son, and Union 7th grader, Blake. He wants to send him to private school, but worries Union will follow Jenks and Broken Arrow's lead.

And without help, he has few options.

"I'm not saying for a second that they're not doing the best they can, I believe that they are. But the truth is, they're not set up to deal with the problems. They're not," Lightcap said.

Jenks' decision has not prompted any lawsuits - yet. But the district admits that if it continues to ignore the new law, one will likely be filed soon.

"I would expect that this will be decided eventually by the courts," said Jenks Assistant Superintendent Lisa Muller.

Tulsa Public Schools could be the next large district to choose a stance on House Bill 3393. The board will discuss the issue at its next meeting on October 18th.