Three years after opening, officials at Boulder’s The Joshua School are considering closing the campus after this school year because of declining enrollment.
The private, non-profit school, which specializes in serving students on the autism spectrum, opened a Boulder campus in January 2013. The school rents space from a church in a Gunbarrel neighborhood.
The Boulder campus is the school’s second. The first, located in Englewood, includes an early childhood center and enrolls about 58 students. The Englewood campus, which draws students from 17 school districts, also is full with a wait list.
Kris Harrington, The Joshua School’s executive director, said the board of directors decided last month that the Boulder campus isn’t sustainable. About a dozen students are enrolled this year, but only nine planned to enroll next school year.
The school needs at least 12 students to operate, she said.
She said there’s still a need for the school in northern Colorado, but the location isn’t working. To keep the school open, she said, it would need to move to a more accessible location along the Interstate 25 corridor.
“Our commitment to the families runs deep and we want to do absolutely everything we can to support them,” she said. “We’re doing everything we possibly can to figure out a way to remain open, but in a different location. The need out there is still significant.”
In 2013, school administrators said they expanded to Boulder because so many of their students come from the region around Boulder, including Longmont and Broomfield.
But since then, Harrington said, the Boulder campus has seen enrollment decline as area school districts increase their own capacity to serve students with significant needs, including hiring Board Certified Behavior Analysts.
When a school district can’t meet the needs of students with disabilities, students are educated outside the district, at district expense.
In Boulder Valley, students on the autism spectrum in the past have been placed at The Joshua School at both campuses, Boulder’s Temple Grandin for middle and high school students, Denver’s Firefly Autism, and at Westminster’s Spectra Autism Center.
Boulder Valley has at least one student placed at The Joshua School now, but the district can’t provide an exact number because of federal privacy laws. St. Vrain Valley also has out-of-district placements there. Some families also pay the tuition costs, about $60,000 a year, themselves.
Ron Yauchzee, Boulder Valley’s special education executive director, said the district has developed programs and supports over the last four years to serve an increasing number of students with autism, including adding Board Certified Behavior Analysts.
But other districts, especially those with fewer resources, depend on private placements for students with the most challenging needs.
If the Boulder campus is closed, Harrington said, The Joshua School will work with families on alternative placements — and the Denver campus is “bursting at the seams” and doesn’t have space.
Shari Watson, a local special education advocate whose son previously attended Joshua School, said there’s already limited space in private programs for students who need them. If the Boulder campus closes, she said, it would limit the options even more.
She said she has a client whose child was a good fit for Joshua School’s Denver campus, but couldn’t get in because it’s full and that the child was placed instead in an out-of-state residential program.
“I don’t think it’s a stretch to call this a crisis,” she said.
Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/boundsa