How One Parent Overcame Fear of DC Schools

December 12, 2017

Cathaleen Skinner

I heard the DC public schools are terrible. I hope you know what you’re doing.

That is what my dad said to me when I told him I was moving into the city. Feeling guilty that I had given my father one more thing to worry about beyond his chronic heart failure, I responded extra-cheerfully, “Dad, I can handle it. I mean, how bad can it be?”

I didn’t want to admit to him that I hadn’t really done all my research. At the time, my only concern was how desperately I wanted more time with my daughters, especially my youngest, who would often be asleep when I got home from work each night. By moving into DC, I could cut down on my commute and get home to them sooner, which I knew was just as important.

However, I did not make this decision without weighing the consequences, specifically, how it would impact my eldest daughter with special needs. I was confident, though, that the hard work my husband and I had put into helping develop an individual education plan (IEP) over the last eight years would be honored by DCPS schools, and my daughter wouldn’t experience a drop off in services or attention.

Unfortunately, within six months of moving to DC, my husband and I found ourselves needing the services of a special education rights law firm to appeal the changes DCPS had made to my daughter’s IEP. While the school argued that my nearly non-verbal daughter didn’t need speech-language therapy, we felt helpless as she began to lose her words and the progress she had made. Feeling like she was going to continue to not make progress, we enrolled her in St. Coletta Public Charter School. In a new environment that can provide the appropriate structure and attention our daughter needs, she is once again making tremendous progress. 

One could expect this would be where I launch into DCPS and explain why public charter schools are the answer – but I won’t.  In fact, my youngest daughter is currently thriving at John Eaton Elementary School.

I joined PAVE because I have a vision of honesty and transparency in our public education system. I support school choice because it works for my children. We need more families like mine to not be afraid to move to DC. I hope my story will help make the transition smoother for others.

By Cathaleen Skinner, Ward 4 PAVE PLE Board Member