NEWS: Special Needs Students Accelerate With Ohio Scholarship Program

From The Sandusky Register in Ohio:

For years, Denny and Barb Wetzel rarely heard good reports from school about their son Jonathan.

The 9-year-old boy is autistic and has behavioral problems that can lead to violent meltdowns.

Something as simple as a new bus driver, or even a trip to a busy grocery store, can result in a full-blown tantrum.

So when they received a glowing evaluation from Jonathan’s new teacher last year, they assumed there’d been a mistake.  The couple had tried several public schools without much luck — at one school he lasted only a few weeks.

“The teachers didn’t know how to handle him,” Denny said. “They were treating him as a juvenile delinquent when it wasn’t his fault; it was autism.”

After he started attending the Haugland Learning Center in Sandusky last year, the Wetzels said he thrived in a way they’d never expected.

The private charter school at 514 Jackson St. is designed for children with autism and emphasizes positive reinforcement, rather than punishment, to change behavior.

Jonathan still throws tantrums at school — last week, he broke a window — but his teacher Sarah Lemle is trained to react to his impulses. Rather than restraining him, she gives him a time-out to cool down.

A recent progress report from the school shows he’s mastered his ABCs, can count to 100 and is learning to read.

“It’s very encouraging,” Barb said. “I think they’ve done wonders with Jonathan. He’s really grown a lot.”

The individualized attention at the school comes at a cost that’s higher than the yearly tuition at many colleges.

The Wetzels said they’d never be able to afford it without the $20,000 scholarship they receive each year from the state.

In fact, all of the 10 students who attend the school receive funding from the Ohio Department of Education’s autism scholarship program, Haugland Learning Center assistant director Kathy Fox said.

The scholarship has been available for several years, providing up to $20,000 a year for parents who want to send their children to a private provider. It has typically applied only to students with autism.

But starting in January, students with other disabilities will have the same opportunities.

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