Carmel family faced with difficult choice: their home or an education for their son who has autism

CARMEL, Ind. — A Carmel mother says her family is going to have to move in order for her son, who has autism, to get the education they feel is appropriate for his needs.

She is advocating that Indiana schools need to expand their resources for students with special needs, and private schools specifically need to spend less on football stadiums and more on diversifying their student body.

Margo Hampel’s 6-year-old son is ready to start kindergarten next year. He also has autism. Because of that diagnosis, Hampel says it has made their search for a school nearly impossible.

 “We have been rejected before many of them have even met myself or our son and that was shocking to us. We have worked so hard for the last three years to get him ready so to be rejected straight off the bat has been a gut punch. and it just doesn’t feel right,” said Hampel.

The Hampels have been preparing their son, Jude, for kindergarten for the last three years in a specialized program. 

He currently reads at a second-grade level and can spell words like ratatouille. He is described as “high functioning” when referring to abilities.

But Hampel says when she went to her local Carmel Clay School enroll Jude for kindergarten, they couldn’t come to an agreement on a learning plan for him that included one of the aides that is provided and covered by their insurance. These aides have also been working with Jude for the last three years. Hampel was requesting the school let her provide Jude’s aide rather than use someone through the school.

When describing the support Jude needs, Hampel says Jude primarily needs his aide to help guide him through the day.

“Our biggest concern with him in a classroom is just kind of getting left in the corner where he will be sitting reading to himself and probably not paying much attention to what is going on around him.”

When asked about their policy for students with special needs a representative for Carmel Clay Schools said:

“Carmel Clay Schools provide a wide continuum of supplementary supports for all students who qualify for special education. These supports may be additional adult assistance provided by the school to enable the student with a disability to participate in the general education environment. These decisions are made as part of a case conference committee, which includes the school and parents.”

Carmel Clay Schools

The family decided to try private schools. Hampel says they’ve applied to at least six schools over the last year and many times they don’t even get a reply after mentioning Jude’s autism diagnosis. If they do get a response, the school simply says they don’t have the resources for kids like Jude, according to Hampel.

“You are choosing to not have the resources for kids like Jude. That is a choice. The fact that we have the financial resources to send Jude anywhere of our choosing yet they are not willing to accept us breaks my heart because what about the people that can’t do that,” said Hampel.

Their youngest son, who is neurotypical, has had much better luck getting into the same schools that are denying Jude.

Hampel believes having her son in the least restrictive environment possible with neurotypical peers is not only good for him, but also good for others in the class to experience people that are different than they are.

“Diversity is more than just skin color, and I think private schools are doing students a huge disservice by not having children like my son in their classroom for those kiddos to be exposed to,” said Hampel.

After not being able to come to an agreement with the local school district and having no luck going the private route, she says her family is at a crossroads.

“At this point, our last resort is selling our house and moving into a different school district. We have run out of options essentially,” said Hampel.

While she works to figure out her family’s next steps, she hopes public schools across the state can work with parents and therapists both in and outside of the school to create individual plans based on a student’s needs.

She believes private schools need to invest more money into resources for students with different abilities rather than spending the thousands of dollars families spend annually to upgrade sports facilities.

Hampel says private schools that receive tax incentives need to be held to the same standards as public schools when it comes to providing resources for students with varying cognitive abilities.

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