Growing up in New York City, all the choices were made for us regarding my son‘s schooling. He was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder at 18 months and by three he had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In New York, preschool, therapies and kindergartens were chosen for us. I was told that if I didn’t like the choices, I would have to go head-to-head with the Board of Education, and it would be a long, drawn-out battle.
Fast forward to 2017, we moved out of New York City to Asheboro, North Carolina. Once again we were shuffled through the educational system without a choice and a school was selected for my son. When I tried to ask about another school in the area, I was told there was bureaucratic red tape between the county and city schools and that the buses would not pick my son up in the city that I lived in to take him to a town school.
It hurt me to the core to see him struggling and to get call after call from his teachers telling me that his behavior was out of control and he was unable to pay attention and make friends with other children.
As I continued researching other options to find a learning environment best suited for my son, I learned about the newly created Education Savings Accounts through Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. Before, I didn’t even know that I had a viable choice in my son’s education.
In 2017, North Carolina passed a landmark reform in educational choice by creating new Personal Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) for students with special needs, becoming the fifth state to launch this innovative program. I was thrilled to learn that North Carolina lawmakers recently expanded eligibility in the program to ensure that students in private school or home school can join those currently in public school able to take advantage of this flexible option.
I applied for the program when enrollment opened last month with the hope that I will be able to begin customizing his education in the fall. I encourage families of students with special needs who, like me, may not have known about this new opportunity to learn more about the program.
It is up to us as our children’s parents, advocates and biggest supporters to do all the research we can to find the right fit to get the education they need and deserve. I appreciate the opportunity that ESAs provide. I hope all North Carolina families will have the freedom to find the best educational fit for their unique needs.
About the author
Sara Kleipe is a People's Choice winner of the Choices in Ed video competition, where she shared her story about the importance of having the power to choose the best educational opportunity to meet her son's unique needs.