The path to success for special needs children is within reach if Texas lawmakers act quickly

By Ezzard Castillo

Ezzard Castillo, Head Administrator for River City Christian School in San Antonio, TX

Life for my wife and I changed early in our marriage when we adopted a little girl with a learning disability.

We were told when she was very young that our daughter would be lucky if she learned basic life skills or could manage to work a menial job. We knew she desperately needed two things: she would need lots of love and an education that could meet her unique needs.

Love we had plenty of. But finding the right learning environment for her proved difficult. We were fortunate to eventually find one outside of the traditional public school setting that fit her needs. It was in this experience that we saw firsthand the dramatic effect that the right learning environment can have on a child.

In 2008, our incredible daughter graduated as a member of the National Honor Society. Eight months later, she completed a certified nurse’s assistant program. None of this would have been possible if we had not found a school that could address her specific needs.

Special needs children shouldn’t have to settle when it comes to their education or what they can expect from their lives. My commitment to that belief led me to my career as head administrator at River City Christian School, a school specifically designed to educate students in kindergarten to 12th grade with learning difficulties. For 13 years now, I have worked with students who have dyslexia, dyscalcula, Asperger’s Disorder, Central Auditory Processing Disorder and other learning challenges.

I have interviewed countless parents who are in search of a school that believes that their son or daughter is capable of more than they’ve been told to expect. I’m proud to say that we’ve done exactly that. Since 2008, 80 percent of our graduates have gone on to attend a two- or four-year college. Today, they are engineers, teachers, military members, plumbers and electricians.

Sadly, many families with special needs children don’t have the means to pay for specialized education. They have no choice but to stay in their local public school, which may not be able to give their child the customized attention he or she needs.

That’s why the decisions our Texas Legislators make in the final weeks of the Legislative Session is so important for the special needs community. Whereas 30 other states have some form of school choice programs, Texas does not.

A school choice program for special needs families in Texas would allow parents to customize their child’s education, including offsetting the cost of private school tuition, tutoring, educational and occupational therapies, online courses or Braille.

Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Mississippi and Florida have passed education choice programs to better help special needs students. Texas parents of special needs students, too, should be able to give their child the best education possible.

There are roughly half a million Texas students receiving special education services in public schools. Many of these schools are excellent and are capable of meeting the needs of their special needs students. But the fact is that every school cannot accommodate the specific needs of every child. This is especially if that school is in a low-income neighborhood.

School districting and economic situation should not determine whether a child with special needs gets the care and attention he or she requires to flourish. Texas students with learning challenges deserve a learning environment, therapies and techniques as diverse and unique as they are.

All parents should have the same opportunity my wife and I had to find a school that can truly meet the needs of their child. After all, doesn’t every child deserve a shot at success?

Ezzard Castillo is the head administrator of River City Christian School in San Antonio, where he has devoted the last 13 years working with students with learning struggles. Prior, he served as a member of the United States Air Force for 20 years.