A set of key questions has arisen as schools in the CSI community, founded largely by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, have moved from schools that served an immigrant community to being schools that serve the broader community. That question is: “What is our identity and given that identity, what type of student do we serve? What kinds of services should we be providing?”
Schools have taken several approaches to answering that question. In the early days (pre-1970’s), students with special needs were often sent to public schools, to self-contained boarding schools (Elim Christian School being one example), or kept at home in the case of more intense special needs. For the purpose of this discussion we will define special needs as those students who, due to physical, cognitive, emotional, or social/behaviorial issues demand additional services and support beyond that of the average student. This could include students on either end of the academic spectrum whether impaired or gifted.
The current approaches fall into these categories:
- The Christian school community in a given area should share the extra cost to educate children from Christian families to the greatest degree possible.
- The Christian school draws an arbitrary line as to what services can be offered and borne by the larger parent community. This may vary from school to school; the line typically may include students with mild cognitive impairments, for example.
- The Christian school operates with a selective admissions policy in the academic and behavioral realm and only allows students within a prescribed band to be admitted.
- The Christian school community accepts students with special needs, but the additional cost for services is borne entirely by the parents of the students.
My hope in writing this post is that we might have a broader discussion of this issue, not to provide answers. As you read the four categories above, you may have found yourself raising certain questions:
- How can schools make it financially feasible when they take all students? Doesn’t that raise tuition to an unaffordable level for the average parent?
- But, aren’t we supposed to be our brother’s keeper? Isn’t it the job of the entire Christian community to function as a whole, as a body?
- How do we draw an arbitrary line that doesn’t feel arbitrary to parents? What about parents of students who are just on the other side of the line? When do we make exceptions?
- Was Christ’s ministry just to the best thinkers or to all? Shouldn’t we be emulating him in our ministry to students?
- But, isn’t it more honest to say we are not equipped to take on students that we can’t service? Isn’t it unethical to take students for their tuition dollars and then not service them appropriately – on either end of the spectrum?
- Do we need services for gifted students? Won’t they just do well anyway?
- Is it fair to penalize parents for the needs of their students? Why should a Christian education be less possible for those who are blessed with children who have special needs?
- How does the broader community view our schools in the light of the categories that were described above? Does it challenge or affirm the stereotypes they may already have about Christian schools?
- What would Jesus do if he were the head of your school?
What do you think?