MANSFIELD, Ohio (WCMH): The Ohio Department of Education has denied a school in Mansfield registration to participate as a provider in the autism scholarship program for the upcoming school year.
The Autism Scholarship Program (ASP) gives the parents of children with autism who qualify for the scholarship the choice to send the child to a special education program other than the one operated by the school district of resident to receive their education and services online in the child’s individualized education program.
Spectrum Behavioral Solutions, located at 800 Park Avenue West in Mansfield, has been a provider for the program since 2012. Executive Director Rebecca Eslinger opened the school to provide behavior and education services to families with children living with autism.
“They weren’t being successful in school settings. Their behaviors were getting them suspended or kicked out,” said Eslinger of the kids who now attend her school. “They weren’t being successful with providers in the area. They weren’t learning. There were a lot of behaviors that were impeding their ability to function in the community.”
ODE pulled the school’s provider status after a nine month investigation of its billing practices and unlicensed employees. A parent of former student filed a complaint with ODE in October 2014.
State investigators said the complaint questioned the operating practices of Spectrum and claimed the school was not in compliance with state rules governing the autism scholarship program.
Parents were notified in early July and told by ODE to find another provider to continue receiving funds for their students.
Melissa Satterfield’s son, Chase, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in 2011. Chase is now nine years old, and Satterfield said the school has made a difference in her son’s behavior and communication.
“A kid that was using two and three words. And I’m talking very basic toddler words, like ‘need drink.’ ‘Go bye-bye,’” said Satterfield. “Those sorts of things turned into ‘time to go to school’. Those sorts of things were just amazing.”
Now the family is being forced to enroll their son in Ashland City Schools. They are afraid the change in environment will cause Chase to regress.
“For me this is tough. I’ve watched him advance so far that now I’m having to say to him: ‘I’m sorry you can’t go here anymore. You have to go to a new school.’ And that’s not going over well,” said Melissa.
The Ohio Department of Education notified Eslinger on June 5, detailing the following results of their investigation of Spectrum Behavioral Solutions. Here is a brief summary of those findings:
• Spectrum does not have a sufficient number of licensed staff to implement the individualized education programs of the students they serve.
• Invoices submitted to the department where not reflective of the services provided to the children or the staff that provided them.
The full report can be viewed here.
Eslinger disagrees with the state’s findings. She said the rules for the autism scholarship program were difficult to interpret, including qualifications and licensing needed by her staff.
“This is a lot of muddled misinformation that you get and the problem is, we were approved,” said Eslinger. “ODE read all of our information, said it was all good and eleven months later is coming back saying, actually we no longer think this is appropriate and we don’t think you are meeting the standards that we outline.”
The school has the option to request a hearing on the denial of its provider status. Eslinger has retained an attorney to fight the decision.
In the meantime, dozens of families must find another provider by the end of August.
Melissa Satterfield, like many of the families, fully support Eslinger and her staff.
“I’m not looking for someone who is going to teach him reading, science and math. I’m looking for someone who can help curb his behaviors and held up live life normally. And that’s what the school provides,” said Melissa.