I’m a pro-inclusion kind of girl. School, church, community. Yep, I’m one of “those moms” that believes it can work. Some people call that unrealistic and others say I’m just in denial. Those of you who know me and those who have worked with me would say I’m passionate about inclusion, making it work for all kids and I am a realist. I realize I cannot impact every school or situation on the planet, but I do have a sphere of influence. I do have a call to advocate for Rachel, but I also believe God has given me a voice for those who can’t, won’t or don’t advocate.
A few weeks back, Huffington Post Education Reporter Rebecca Klein reached out to me. In conjunction with The Hechlinger Report, she has been doing a series called Willing, Able and Forgotten focused on high school graduation rates and individuals with intellectual disabilities. My friend Ricki Sabia, Senior Education Policy Advisor for the National Down Syndrome Congress, connected us. I was happy to share parts of our story and also connected her to others in the disability community who could share other viewpoints.
I’ve worked with a lot with the media. I’ve been misquoted by the media, so I’m always prepared for something to be not just right in a story. However, I think overall Rebecca has done an outstanding job with this series and in particular, the piece we were quoted in from last Saturday For students with disabilities, quality of education can depend on the zip code. I hope you will click and read this and the other parts of the series. I believe there is one more installment.
That said, I want to point out just two things that are important to me. One, Rachel has had amazing teachers. Not every teacher or related services person has been great or a good fit. That’s part of life. We will all, disability or not, encounter people and situations that are challenging. I would say that overall, Rachel’s teachers have either embraced or have come to embrace our high but realistic expectations. In positive ways, some have challenged us and Rachel. Several say they teach differently and think differently because of their experience with Rachel. It has always been my hope and conviction that we would leave the system in a better place so that makes my heart happy.
I have noticed in the five days since this article hit and has been shared on social media, many people have commented that zip code impacts education for all kids and not just those with disabilities. That is a fair statement and is absolutely true. While that is true, my point is more that often the “great zip code districts” for typical students are not “great zip code districts” for students with disabilities. The point has been made that this can vary greatly from school to school within a district. I would also agree with that. One of my friends in the same district we started in had a very positive experience with a progressive principal and teachers. Some of my most troubling calls and emails come from districts that proclaim they are inclusive, but the evidence doesn’t support the claim. Segregation is alive in 2017.
At the crux for me though is this: we need systems change for students with disabilities to be included, to receive diplomas, and then to get meaningful employment. Regardless of where you live, you shouldn’t have to be that mom/parent for your child to be to be meaningfully included and educated. But you do, and that makes me heart sad.