By Rob Roper
Rep. Dave Sharpe (D-Bristol) opened an afternoon of testimony from advocates of Vermont’s school choice system by qualifying, “Our responsibility here in the legislature… is the education of all the children in the state, so that puts us in a bit of a bind sometimes when we think about our own children, our own community versus the entire state,” a subtle signal to his House Education Committee members to not take what they were about to hear all that seriously, at least insofar as it should not influence their anti-school choice policy decisions.
But, if you can listen to this testimony from parents Matt and Tiffany Young about their family’s experience and still oppose school choice, you have no heart. Or a sense of fiscal responsibility for that matter.
The Young’s story illustrates how access to independent schools or an alternative public school in another district that is the right fit for a particular child cannot only benefit that child tremendously, but also save taxpayers tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Young’s story explodes the myths that Vermont’s independent schools, which can only exist within Vermont’s unique and special tuitioning system (now under attack by Act 46 proponents), are elitist and “cherry pick” only the best students. They explode the myth that public schools must take all students, regardless of needs.
Matt Young testified, “Our son is smart, quirky, gifted, and learns differently. Our son was struggling in [the local public] school, in tears often, not doing his work, his grades weren’t the best, he was losing weight, he was full of anxiety, he tried to run away from school more than once. He developed a facial tic, and it was heartbreaking.”
“Almost every day we would get a call from the school: We need another meeting, we need another specialist, we need a different diagnosis, we need another label…. They made him wear a weighted vest and squeeze a bright colored ball. Everything they did made him feel different, and increased his anxiety and his fight or flight response.”
The Youngs went on to detail their painful experiences with the school and the school district, which threatened to (and finally did) expel their son if the family refused to put the child on medications that the boy’s doctor said would be detrimental to his health and well being.
The boy’s doctor and therapist as well as his parents agreed that moving him to an independent school was the best option for the child, but the school board refused due to politics and the desire to keep the $12,000 dollars necessary for such placement in the public school system – even though this cost was significantly less than keeping him in the public school as a “special needs” student.
The Youngs took matters into their own hands and enrolled their son in the Thaddeus Stephens School. Long story short (please watch the whole video!), after three years at Thaddeus Stephens:
“Our son is thriving, he takes no medication, his grades are fantastic, he’s had no major issues with discipline, and certainly no physical restraints. He developed a great sense of humor, he just had a major part in a school play, played a solo on the trumpet in the school concert, he’s on the Math Counts team, he just won the DAR writing contest for the entire state at his grade level. He was the leading scorer on his hockey team, and his facial tic is all but gone.”
This is not an attack on the public school system. As the Youngs point out, many children thrive in their local public school and there are many excellent teachers. But, that school was not the right fit for their child. Denying their child – any child –the right to find a school that meets his or her particular needs and gives them the opportunity to thrive is unjust to the child, the family — and to the taxpayers.
The Young’s son was not a “special needs” student as labeled by the public school system. He just needed a different school. How many other square pegs are being hammered into round holes by our school system, at great damage to the child and great cost to the taxpayers?
Proponents of Act 46 are doing their best to snuff out the tuitioning (school choice) towns in Vermont that allow for schools like Thaddeus Stephens to exist, and to deny children and families like the Youngs the power to do what’s right. This, despite assurances before the law passed, that tuitioning towns would be protected under the law.
Please contact your legislators today and tell them to fix Act 46 to protect school choice towns – as they promised to do – this year.
Find you legislators HERE.
Members of the House Education Committee
- David Sharpe, Chair
- Bernard Juskiewicz, Vice Chair
- Kevin Christie, Ranking Member
- Scott Beck
- Sarah E. Buxton, Clerk
- Lawrence Cupoli
- Timothy Jerman
- Emily Long
- Ann Manwaring
- Alice Miller
- Kurt Wright
Members of the Senate Education Committee
- Ann Cummings, Chair
- Bill Doyle, Vice Chair
- Philip Baruth
- David Zuckerman
- Brian Campion
- Dustin Degree, Clerk
And, if you have a similar story about your own experiences with school choice, please share!