When Public Schools Can’t Afford Special Education Costs….


The following article is very disturbing- a teen from Braintree, Massachusetts is not attending school because the special education system refuses to pay for a $90,000 placement – The following information is based on the Boston Globe article written by Mandy McLaren.


Samantha is an eighth grader with multiple disabilities, including autism who is unable to tolerate the overstimulating public school environment- so she spends her time in her bedroom. Last year she attended a private school that met her complex social and sensory needs and she did well. But the school district refused to pay for her continued enrollment.

Samantha is eager to attend school….

but instead spends her days sleeping, scrolling, falling behind academically and hoping that adults will resolve the conflict. According to McLaren, Samantha hasn’t been to school a single day this academic year! However, federal law requires districts to cover the cost of privately educating students whose needs they cannot meet.

Braintree- is not unique in being in the midst of a budget crisis…..

The placement was meant to be temporary and Braintree is offering daily tutoring at the town library instead- thus denying Samantha access to classmates and enrichment activities. However, Samantha was previously thriving both academically and socially at Fusion Academy in Hingham, MA and her mother Alicja Frechon has been fighting the district to enroll her daughter back at the private school. Samantha’s mom claims that Braintree violated Samantha’s right to “stay put” a key tenet of both federal and state special education law. The provision provides the right to stay in the current placement while administrators, teachers, therapists and parents sort out the disagreement.


The deadlock is especially cruel

considering that students are only just emerging from the pandemic induced isolation and disrupted academics…. Special education advocates have been seeking federal officials for years to investigate whether Massachusetts’ Education Department provides adequate oversight.

For Samantha, the wait has been grueling….

Spending her life in her bedroom is more than unhealthy, it’s a devastating blow to one’s sense of worth. According to the article, Samantha

  1. as a child struggled to tolerate strangers, loud noises, or people getting too close to her
  2. she grew easily agitated, even combative
  3. was a target of bullies.
  4. was diagnosed with traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, debilitating anxiety disorder and autism.

Fusion Academy sounds just like what an occupational therapist would prescribe:

I never heard of this school until reading the article. However, I sent my son to a Montessori school in the younger grades for all of the same reasons….

  1. specializing in one-on-one instruction
  2. caring adults in small classes
  3. low stimulation, self-directed and students learning at their own pace
  4. a social climate that she could trust- so much that Samantha started a walking club.
  5. Fusion Academy was the first school that made Samantha feel safe and envision a future-after attending eight different schools in three years.

The Fusion Academy does not provide special education, but it may offer the individualized environment that every child deserves and children like Samantha require in order to succeed. According to the author, Braintree refused to reenroll Samantha at her previous school- a special education Collaborative- (another expensive out-of-district placement) .

Samantha’s mom , a single parent- scraped up money to hire a special education advocate who helped her file a complaint

in December with the state’s Problem Resolution System. The decision wasn’t scheduled until March. Just days before the decision, Braintree filed an Appeal that started a new timeline on the case. In addition, this involves a change of venue and data shows that bringing the fight to a quasi-judicial system usually results in districts winning over parents and students…. The hearing is scheduled for mid May.

This situation highlights the plight of districts not being able to afford the rising cost of education- especially $90,000/year placements.


According to McLaren, Federal law prohibits districts from making special education decisions based on funding constraints. According to the Boston Globe, Frechon met privately with Mayor Erin Joyce to plead her case. Frechon left the meeting feeling hopeful. A plain-clothed police officer, accompanied by two family service workers visited Samantha to offer support. Meanwhile, Samantha’s mom went to court to file an emergency injunction against Braintree Public Schools with the help of a new pro bono attorney. If granted, the injunction would force Braintree to immediately reenroll Samantha in Fusion Academy. The district is also considering other less expensive out of district options….

Thank-you Boston Globe and journalist, Mandy McLaren for highlighting the “Great Divide” in educational inequality in Boston and statewide.

As an occupational therapist and parent to an adult on the autism spectrum and the mental health challenges that developed after years of failure and trauma – I view early educational and mental health services- as essential preventative medicine for young adults vulnerable to developing anger, hate, aggression and potential suicide or worse….

My own son survived public schools because I was intensely involved. For example, through high school and community college- I listened to his class tape recordings and read literature and social science textbooks so that I could explain the plot and types of questions the teacher would be looking for on tests- ( I was an English major before becoming an occupational therapist).

Unfortunately, my son is unable tolerate the many social and sensory land mines required to work with others- despite having a biology degree. He flunked interview 101…. But Samantha sounds bright, motivated and capable of having a fulfilling future. Money should not stand in her way…. Federal and state funds must supplement the district’s school budget. We owe it to the young people who inherited this dangerous and complex culture and planet…..

and we can choose to tax billionaires to make it so…. It only takes determination and voting power!

The Great Divide team explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to thegreatdivide@globe.com.

Mandy McLaren can be reached at mandy.mclaren@globe.com. Follow her @mandy_mclaren.

A Sad Update…..


According to today’s Boston Globe reporter (April 19, 2024) , Mandy Mclaren, a Norfolk Superior Court judge issued a ruling that Samantha may return to the public school- where her complex emotional/social needs will not be met.

Children like Samantha have potential to succeed and spending money to do so is a good investment. Now I am going to say something very unpopular among those of us in the therapy/ special education world….. I have been paid high consultant rates to provide services to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). They deserved my services but think about the goal to use the index finger to activate a switch that communicates “I want more” . Then compare the money spent helping a student with average or perhaps above average intelligence (like my son) who is capable of learning higher math and science but is weak on emotional learning. Which of these students is the better financial investment for society? In an ideal world, they will both receive the education/therapy to achieve their potential…. but this world is far from ideal….

If you subscribe to the Boston Globe you will see many comments that are hateful and anti-immigrant because Samantha’s mom is from Poland and English is her second language. She is a single mom and she is financially struggling. Many comments refer to the money Massachusetts is spending on sheltering immigrants- and that is totally irrelevant to the special education rules and how our society cares for the most vulnerable students…… If you do not subscribe to the Boston Globe- I can tell you that so-called Massachusetts can be a very ugly place for vulnerable residents . I’m retired from clinical occupational therapy work now -but I will continue to fight for the underdog….

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