Dozens of Medically Fragile Students Informed That Portland Isn’t Obligated to Educate Them

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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More than three dozen disabled and medically fragile students in Portland, Ore., were told last month that the city is not legally responsible for their schooling. 

Parents of the students and staff at the Center for Medically Fragile Children at the Providence Child Center are struggling to find out where to turn now, Nicole Dungca of The Oregonian reported Sunday.

The Providence Center provides 24-hour care, intensive pediatric nursing care and other supports like tube feeding.

Some Providence students, like Nichole Karn’s 8-year-old daughter, Joslyn, receive around-the-clock care for their disabilities. Portland Public Schools funded the full-time students living at Providence for more than a decade.

"At this point, I don't know where they expect her to go," Karn told The Oregonian.

In May, parents were sent a letter without any warning that state law does not require the city to provide education for disabled kids. The school district discovered that state law requires that the district where a parent or guardian lives take responsibly for the education of the child – not the district where Providence sits. The Oregon Department of Education agreed with Portland’s interpretation of the law.

Portland took a closer look at its education policy when it received a bill this school year for the education of a student who lives in an out-of-state medical facility and whose guardian lives in Portland.

Once the city realized it was not responsible for Providence students, the district did not want to be liable for making decision on behalf of kids who do not live there, according to Portland special education director, Mary Pearson.

Pearson said money was a factor in the decision. It costs $1.5 million to educate Providence students.

"It seems kind of selfish to me, that they're not seeing how it's affecting the kids and their outcomes and their whole families," Karn said.

Now, more than 40 families of the 53 students who live at Providence are not sure where their kids will be next year. Officials said they will try to provide some kind of transitional program at the district’s expense while they try to work out new arrangements, but there is no information yet on the level of service. Unfortunately, most districts with resources are too far away for Providence students to attend.

"It's not Portland Public's responsibility to define who should provide that support," said Ed Krankowski, assistant director of special education. "We just know that we're not the ones legally responsible for that support."

Katharine Murphy has a 17-year-old daughter named Kelton who lives at Providence. Murphy told The Oregonian that the population thrives on consistency and is unable to stand up for itself.

"Our daughter doesn't speak," Murphy told Nicole Dungca. "We have to be her voice."

Carrie Petz of Vancouver, Wash., said her son Joel, 12, who has cerebal palsy and is prone to seizures has grown and made friends through the program.

"His world is already so small," his mother said. "Without school, his world will shrink even smaller."

"I've contacted my school district and at least got the ball rolling," Petz added. "But then summer comes, and the school year is going to start, and he's not going to have a place to go."

At the end of the day, parents just want someone to take responsibility.

"I understand the challenge of educating these kids, but it's their right to have an appropriate education," Murphy said.

Source: The Oregonian