New Program Focuses on Special Needs Education

By Tim Bishop

WHEELING—Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston now have access to funding to be used to afford children with special needs the opportunity to receive a Catholic education. The Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education of West Virginia (FIREWV) will open the opportunity for all students to explore superior education, grounded in the lived Gospel values of the Catholic faith.

FIREWV was founded in 2014 by a group of parents who shared a common dream of allowing children with special needs the opportunity to attend their parish schools with siblings and friends. The group has formed a dedicated board of directors and community members who are committed to raising the necessary funds to make their dream a reality.

Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese, said, “Our board is made up of parents of children with special needs, school administrators, priests and community members encompassing the entire state.”

FIREWV will offer financial grants to qualifying schools within the diocese. The grants will assist with the cost of special education teachers, para-educators and resources that will enable schools to educate children with special needs alongside their peers. FIREWV officials said the program will enhance the education of all children by teaching acceptance, compassion and the value of every child of God. They said the program also helps children grow up to appreciate each person’s unique gifts. Schmidt said the program started in order to meet an unmet need in the diocese. “We have special needs students in our schools,” he said. “We want them to be able to achieve their highest potential, and the FIREWV program can help them both financially and with the resources needed to be able to do that. We also want parents of special needs students to know that their children can come to us for top quality, faith-based education for their children.”

Schmidt said the first round of applications are being accepted until Aug. 1 for the coming school year. He said grant announcements will be made soon.

Those who would like to get involved or support FIREWV’s mission, may visit