Portland Public Schools put dozens of families in limbo last month when it announced suddenly that it was relinquishing responsibility for the Providence Child Center, a residential school that educates more than 50 severely disabled students, because the residency of parents — and not the students themselves — disqualifies kids from receiving services.
Parents of Providence students, as well as Providence administrators and staff, now have only a limited time to figure out what this means for their children and also how the announcement affects the future of the institution.
Portland Public Schools has been providing educational services to the Center for Medically Fragile Children at the Providence Child Center– and the students who live in there full time – for over a decade. The center's location places it squarely in the Portland district boundary, and PPS has provided transportation for its patients since 2004 to allow them to attend nearby schools.
The letter announcing the end of the partnership went out to 40 of the 53 families of the center kids. According to the district, officials came to the conclusion that they were not obligated to provide education services to Providence residents after taking a closer look at the state law governing education for disabled students.
Oregon law says the district in which a guardian lives — not where the student in a facility like Providence lives — is responsible for the child's education, according to Portland's interpretation. The Oregon Department of Education agrees with the analysis.
The Providence pediatric skilled nursing center is the only one its kind in the Pacific Northwest, drawing residents from as far as Alaska and California. Nearly 80 percent of the students have parents who live outside the district's boundaries.
The letter advised parents to get in touch with officials in their home districts, but didn't provide any further guidance on how to obtain transportation and education services for their children starting next year. PPS's assistant director of special education Ed Krankowski defended the letter, saying that finding alternative accommodations for Providence students affected is not the job of Portland Public Schools'.
The only thing district officials can say with certainty is that the cost of those accommodations will no longer be covered by Portland.
Krankowski insists the district did its best to communicate with parents while working with Providence. In its initial letter to parents, Portland school officials said they would hold a question-and-answer session — but they still haven't scheduled one.
Murphy said she just wants to resolve everything as quickly as possible.
"I understand the challenge of educating these kids," she said, "but it's their right to have an appropriate education."