I am the proud mother of three wonderful children; Samuel, Lynsey and Maggie and this is my family’s story toward education freedom.
Our children’s education began in public school and we soon realized that one size did not fit all. What my husband and I remembered as quality education was not what we were experiencing with our children. The doors were not wide open for all students, especially for those that required special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires an Individual Education Plan for all students with special needs, however, it seemed that our local public school wanted that plan to suit their program and not our son. The conversations were exhausting and not parent friendly or student centered. We strongly believe that whether it is personality, learning style, or accommodations, parents are the best suited to make the choice when it comes to the education program for their children. Our local district informed us it was an inconvenience to provide services to our son and even when appropriate services were available, the district seemed to operate on a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. This was unacceptable to our family. After years of this experience, we decided to look for other options.
Our daughter Lynsey was afforded a choice scholarship to attend a private school in our community. Our daughter Maggie was thriving in an online virtual school, however, neither of these options were optimum for our son Samuel. Samuel has multiple disabilities having been born with Down Syndrome and that put limitations on his education options. The public school had very low expectations and no motivation for educating him. Samuel was also bullied on several occasions with no positive solutions from the school administration. The virtual school was too rigorous with little functional learning for his needs. We needed a standards-based functional curriculum. I found such a curriculum, however the public system controlled all the funds. There had to be other options.
Thankfully after years of lobbying by my family and others, the state of Ohio passed the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship. The scholarship afforded choice to provide education freedom for all students in the state of Ohio with a disability and the tax dollars would follow the student to a program best suited to their needs. There remained just one problem, there was no program like this in our area for learners like our son. So, I went to the private school that our daughter attended and asked them to help me. I presented the idea of the program that I had developed. After much prayer and consideration, they trusted me with the task of starting a functional learning program. In the school year of 2012-2013, Samuel and 12 other students with special needs were the first to attend the JP program at Mansfield Christian School for an education tailored specifically to their individual needs. Samuels dreams of being able to learn at his pace and be educated with his peers were becoming a reality!
It was my goal that no other family would have to repeat the long painful journey we had just traveled. Quality education should be available to all children and if their current situation is not working, then options to choose another should be available. I firmly believe that one system for all is not the solution. Education Freedom needs to be a priority for all students. A student cannot be limited by an address, income or diagnosis. Each student should be given the opportunity to succeed. Children are our future and Education Freedom is the door to opportunity. Let’s push that door wide open for all students!
Samuel graduated from high school in 2015, landed his dream job in his favorite pizza shop in town and also works on the cleaning crew at the school that gave him a place to learn. Samuel says every day that his dreams are coming true. He has friends, is active in his community and is a voice for choice advocate. Lynsey graduated in 2014 from high school and in 2017 from college and is currently a PRN PTA, married and expecting her first child. Maggie graduated from high school in 2017 and from college May 2019 as a Radiology Technologist. She is currently working full time.
Our family is so grateful for all the efforts that have gone into making choice in education an option. I continue to support Education Freedom for all students and will continue to share our story along with Samuel to support other families and students across this great nation.