OKLAHOMA CITY -- Several state lawmakers say Jenks Public Schools and Broken Arrow Public Schools are not complying with a new state law granting scholarships to special needs students.
In a news release the lawmakers say the school boards at both schools voted this week to violate Oklahoma law, which allows students with disabilities such as autism or Down's Syndrome, to receive scholarships and transfer to schools that specialize in aiding those populations.
"It's concerning for these schools to break the law at the expense of children with special needs, and it's disturbing for them to ignore the law over a philosophical difference of opinion," said Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. "If these districts have concerns, they should communicate those issues with the Legislature to bring about positive solutions that would benefit students with special needs. We can no more allow schools to violate the law because officials object to it than we can allow drivers to ignore the speed limit in a school zone if it ‘inconveniences' them."
House Bill 3393, which was authored by state Representative Jason Nelson, created the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act.
Steele says the scholarship program does not require new spending, but merely redirects existing state funds that are currently spent on the student.
The news release says school officials claimed the transfers authorized by the scholarship program would somehow harm their financial standing. State Representative Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, a co-author of the law, issued a statement concerning the actions of Jenks and Broken Arrow schools.
"Unfortunately, this is not the first time people have relied on obscure legal arguments to deny children access to a quality education. A few years ago, we saw this same law firm unsuccessfully challenge the state's charter school law. I have always believed that providing quality educational options for all kids is the civil rights issue of the 21st Century. As history has taught us, when adults fight, kids suffer. Today, as in the past, our focus should be on the children, not the wants of school officials and their attorneys."
Another state lawmaker, State Representative Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City says he has been contacted by several parents of special-needs students in the Tulsa area and said the schools' actions are reason for "serious concern" about the treatment of special-needs students in those districts.
"The fact that these schools will openly ignore state law justifies parents' fears and concerns about poor treatment of children with disabilities in these districts," Jason Nelson said. "If these districts are willing to brazenly flaunt the law in this case, I can only imagine how bad it must be for the parents who are trying to get the district to follow federal law and case law during IEP meetings."