The challenges faced by ALC are specific to finances and the lack of local professionals. It is well documented that it costs at least three times as much to educate a child with a disability than it does a typically developing child.
In the state of California, USA an average of US $27,000.00 is spent annually to educate a child with a special need for services which include occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and reading support amongst other services. In the TCI, the government provides $4,000.00 per student per year. While it is unrealistic to make comparisons and the lack of these professionals on the island makes access more daunting, even the subscription for online support in these specific disciplines is prohibitive.
ALC charges a monthly tuition of $400.00, which proves to be a considerable burden for some parents and 100% tuition payment is never received. From its inception in 2015, most of the financial responsibility has been borne by Ms Williams and her immediate family. The school has the blueprint of what is needed to provide optimal services but lacks the financial support to do so.
To date, all teachers at the school have been expatriates as when vacancies are advertised locally, the applicants are not qualified in the areas of special education or primary education. Currently, the school is in desperate need of a fourth teacher as this will allow for more targeted instruction with a smaller number. Hiring foreign teachers
adds to the expenses incurred by the school.
Special Needs in TCI
Ms. Williams’ inability to find a school in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) that would educate her child is far from unique. The stories told by parents as they recount their trips to school, after school, after school, with the hope that one door would open to welcome their child who was ‘different’, are heart-wrenching. In some cases, when students were accepted to schools, within the year parents would be told that the child could not continue in that environment as teachers did not have the skills to teach them.
The 2015 Policy Document on Special education for the Turks and Caicos states: “There is a growing number of children within schools in the Turks and Caicos Islands who have been diagnosed with special educational needs. The exact number is unknown but is thought to be in the region of 5% of the school population. The term special educational needs cover specific learning difficulties such as Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), pervasive disorders such as autism and physical disability, hearing impairment, visual impairment, as well as gifted and talented students ”.
Within the last five years, in Providenciales, a teacher, with an undergraduate degree in special education, has been assigned to each of the four government primary schools. While this is so, schools continue to be selective when considering who can be registered.