News Article Details

Charter school for kids with disabilities abruptly cuts majority of students and staff

Akron Beacon Journal - 9/25/2017

Sept. 25--Out of the Box Academy, a charter school for kids with disabilities, abruptly shut its doors to a majority of its staffers and student body last week, citing issues with funding.

The school announced the cuts on a Facebook post Saturday evening.

"Out of the Box Academy has gone through a very difficult past couple of days. Because of changes to the Autism Scholarship payment procedures, we were not issued scholarship payments this month," the post reads.

It goes on to say that because of the changes, the school was unable to meet payroll and was "forced to lay off most of our staff members." It is unknown when the layoffs occurred.

"With fewer staff members, in order to retain the appropriate staff to student ratios, we were put in the unfortunate position where we could no longer provide scholarship services to a large number of our students," the post says.

The Ohio Department of Education's Autism Scholarship Program gives the parents of children with autism who qualify for a scholarship the choice to send their child to a special education program other than the one operated by the school district.

Phone and email messages to Out of the Box Academy were not returned Sunday.

The post said the academy contacted all families that have been impacted. It's unknown how many people were affected or how many students attend the school.

School consolidation

Last year, Out of the Box had an enrollment of 55 students. It serves students ages 5 to 21 who have mild to severe disabilities, those on the autism spectrum and those with dual diagnoses.

The school consolidated from four buildings to one last year in a former 26,000-square-foot U.S. Army Reserve Center at 1011 Gorge Blvd. next to North High School.

"I thought, gosh, that seems like they have a lot of money, rolling in the dough," Twinsburg resident Jordan Weekley said on Sunday about the school's consolidation.

Weekley's 9-year-old stepson, who has autism, attended the school the past two years. She said the experience at Out of the Box was "amazing" -- so amazing that it prepared him to transition into public school this year in Tallmadge, where his mom lives.

Weekley said her stepson was receiving the Autism Scholarship and wouldn't have been able to attend Out of the Box without it had he not transferred. As it turns out, he transferred just in time.

"This would've really, really screwed us in the long run," Weekley said. "... It seemed like every mom I talked to there had the Autism Scholarship."

She added that change is often difficult for children with autism to deal with. That, coupled with finding a new school in the middle of the year, could prove challenging for some parents.

"It'll be horrible for some of these kids," Weekley said. "That's just not OK to do to parents."

APS offering help

In the meantime, the Akron Public Schools special education department is reaching out to affected families to see if a school in the district would make a good fit for their child.

Tammy Brady, director of special education for APS, said about 25 kids from Akron attend Out of the Box, a majority of whom are on the Autism Scholarship. She said she began receiving calls Friday from parents, who told her the school closed that day and alerted them of the cuts that afternoon.

"I just feel so bad for the families, because they were taken so much by surprise," Brady said. "As disappointed as we were to hear about this, we're just glad that we're here and we're able to offer a full continuum of services."

Starting Monday, Brady said, the district will begin reaching out to affected families and work with them on either enrolling their kids in APS or helping them find another school. Brady added that the district is able to provide all the services that students from Out of the Box need, and if they decide to enroll in APS, students could resume school as early as this week.

Out of the Box Academy said in its Facebook post that it hopes to have the issue resolved by Oct. 20 with scholarship services resuming Nov. 1.

"We realize educating children with learning differences at home may not be feasible so we will assist all who need help in finding alternative scholarship providers and options," the post says.

Any students who were not impacted will resume classes at their normal time Monday.

The school operates under Out of the Box Behavioral Solutions LLC, a private special needs behavioral consulting company. It was founded by Elizabeth Grafious.

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.

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(c)2017 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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