Many parents are curious about alternate setting programs or “alternative schools” for children struggling with social-emotional issues. Many have questions or uncertainties about reaching out to a program, or may even be unsure if their child qualifies.
Alternative schools like mine, Education Alternatives in Elyria, are designed to provide more intensive special education services for specific students who need that extra support. Alternate setting programs are paid by the child’s home school district as an extension of their own special education services; they are different than private programs that are paid and enrolled solely by parents.
Our students are typically already on IEPs for behavioral challenges. In most cases, they are struggling in a public school setting with anything from staying on task to showing safe behaviors, completing academics, following directions, and more.
The alternate setting is a unique benefit to these students because half of our day is group counseling and half of our day is academics. The main benefit is the social-emotional behavior piece that they do not receive as consistently or for as many hours of their school day as they would in their public school.
While they learn offsite, all of our students are still enrolled in their public school so they are allowed every opportunity they would receive if they were physically attending their public school building. They can do sports and clubs, and our high school students receive diplomas from their public school. We are providing the special education services and the mental health services for their school in the same way professionals would on-site. The only difference is that we work with students on a different campus.
There are typically two ways to enroll a child. The most common way is a school district placement. The other way is a parent/guardian placement through the Jon Peterson Scholarship.
Students who qualify need a pre-existing IEP. Most families start by scheduling a meeting with their IEP team to discuss the services and accommodations that they’ve already tried and the concern that the student still isn’t succeeding the way they should. The Intervention Specialist will reach out to the supervisor or director to see what they can do differently or if an alternate setting would be most appropriate.
Alternatively, parents can apply for the Jon Peterson Scholarship if they’ve requested a separate facility and they haven’t gotten that outcome through the district. Jon Peterson is offered through the state of Ohio and applied through ODE.
As a first step, anyone considering a Jon Peterson Scholarship should meet with the program they are considering and discuss the details of placement. Based on that meeting, if an application is appropriate, the next step is to submit. To apply, parents can go to the Ohio Department of Education website and apply for the scholarship. Once the scholarship is awarded, the student can go to any school that is a provider.
As Building Directors, we are here to help families navigate this process. We encourage you to reach out to us.
– Carrie Cercone is the Director of Day Treatment at Education Alternatives in Elyria, Ohio.