Texas charter schools and students with disabilities: parental perceptions of the phenomenon

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Shields, Rana

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This qualitative study describes the perceptions of parents of students with disabilities regarding their charter school experience in the state of Texas. A total of six parents and five staff/administrators at two different Texas charter schools were interviewed for this study. Parents described the reasons for transferring their children from traditional public schools to charter schools and the differences in educational programs in the two settings. The primary category that emerged from an analysis of the data was that the needs of the child were not being met in the traditional public school setting. This manifested itself in both emotional difficulties for the child and academic failure. Parents further reported that special education services in traditional public school were either ineffectual or problematic. Attempts to change the system did not work for these parents, who were generally unaware of the charter school alternative. Most parents reported that their children experienced years of school failure and emotional difficulties before they learned of the charter school alternative. Parents became aware of their child’s charter school from friends, neighbors, church members, an educational association, and in one instance, the child’s traditional public school. Upon enrollment in the charter school all parents reported an increased sense of emotional well being in their children. Parents noted that the small school size produced positive outcomes. Overall, parents reported that their children were emotionally happier and in most cases improved academically as well. The majority of parents noted that while they saw improvements in their children after enrolling in charter schools that charter schools were not perfect either. Parents said that charter schools did not offer the full array of educational and extracurricular activities available in traditional public school and attributed this to a lack of funding available for charter schools. In the area of special education, some parents struggled with teachers who lacked training in working with students with disabilities. Parents reported that this problem existed in both traditional public schools and charter schools but that they had more influence in dealing with teacher attitudes in the charter school environment.