VL Gaffney: Founder, President, Headmaster

Whatever it is, we can make it work.
That’s my life’s work.

Since founding COH in 2016 and earning 501c3 status in 2021, I’ve had one very simple principle in mind for how “this whole thing” functions. Universal IEPs.

This may seem so simplistic that the fact universal IEPs aren’t already standard in schools leaves you wondering where the catch is hiding, but as a graduate of public, private, and homeschool, and now current public school teacher, I can tell you the reason we aren’t serving kids in this way comes down to our legislation of school funding.
When a school’s operating paycheck is directly linked to its neighborhood tax base and the number of minutes students spend in supervised seat time (say that five times fast), we are setting up the campus for a failure to meet its students needs.

When I became suddenly disabled in 2015, my entire academic track was derailed. And I’d been a pretty good student, taking honors courses and riding out the last of my Gifted Kid privileges. But when I couldn’t be a seatwarmer anymore, I was instead an extra thing for my overworked teachers to have to think about. Getting the support services staff to agree to a gameplan that worked for me was like pulling teeth, and I ultimately had to withdraw early from public high school. It wasn’t until I saw a printed copy of my “drop out” transcript that we realized I’d been a graduate in the eyes of House Bill 5 for more than a year, which no one had bothered to check on, for some reason.

The thing that got in the way the most was the concept of an LRE (Least Restrictive Environment), which is still a notion I battle with now as an educator with disabled students of my own. An LRE is largely up to the interpretation of the administrators reading your application for school services. For example, the first time I submitted 504 paperwork, my campus coordinator said it would be better if I just stayed home, that it was unreasonable to ask for my work in weekly batches up front. Now, my in-person secondary gradeschool students receive all of their work and resources in six week advance batches via Canvas, due to COVID preparations just in case campuses have to close again. We could have always done things this way.

The graphic above shows a “pyramid” of the general concept of an LRE, but this model excludes students who have always needed and would have always been better served in environments other than traditional lecture style classrooms in a building full of traditional lecture style classrooms.
According to this pyramid, COH would be a highly restrictive environment purely on the basis that it’s residential and provides specialized services. But we’re not out here to join the niche network of SERP (Special Education Residential Program), we’re here to prove that Universal IEPs have a place in all educational settings. We’re here to show that a healthcare diagnosis is not the only reason you should work with kids on their wants and needs.

When, for some reason, the arbitrary expiration on that first round of 504 paperwork came to pass, we had to start over with “new” diagnostic paperwork and a “new” meeting to discuss services, which ended the same way, plus another massive bill from the specialist who charged a Last Minute Same Week fee. Mind you, we didn’t discuss or set that expiration, the admin who told me to “just stay home” did that unilaterally. And she thought “permanent disability” meant five weeks Homebound and right back to Gen Ed. Can’t tell you why. In fact, I can’t tell you why paperwork marked with “permanent” anything would have any kind of expiration date. That’s not the kind of thing that should be assumed. Not a predicted graduation, not a phase-out, nothing related to health information should be determined (let alone inferenced) by a school administrator. Yet, this is the perfectly legal standard practice in schools. My question lies here: If it is both legal and socially accepted that a non-medical professional can determine the nature and lifespan of paperwork such as 504 accommodations, then why are they only doing this for some students?

Now, I’m not saying schools should start practicing medicine the way private healthcare insurance companies do when they’re deciding if you can get an operation your doctor is recommending… but I am saying that every student deserves to have their needs and wants discussed for the purpose of determining if there are services a student could be receiving that would increase their comfort and likelihood of success in an educational setting.

Welcome to Camp Oak Hallows, it’s nice to meet you.
The easiest way to support this cause is through direct, tax deductible donation.
You can also contribute via Facebook, or choose a free support option such as sharing our content on social media, commenting on our posts, and just telling everyone you know about how silly LRE is.

Partnership Bucket List (Alphabetical, always WIP)

Brooke’s Imaginings: a small woman-owned craft business making nature-inspired bags
GrowWithLove (Natalie): a TikToker who lost her mother young, and now makes content about self-care for those who don’t have their information from their guardians either
Hank Green: long-time educator and internet content creator I admire
Hello Dawn Cosmetics: a small woc-owned makeup business that’s actually a secret society for mythical creatures
Lucy Blee: a TikToker known for the “brommunication” videos about roommates who show their love and respect for each other through clear and honest discussions.
TEA Fund: a Texas-based organization helping keep abortion accessible
Tofology (Abbie Richards): a TikToker specializing in recognizing and handling extremism ideology
WitchBitchThrift: a Connecticut-based thrift store known for being size, style, and gender inclusive