Here’s the story my colleague told me the other day when I asked her how things were going. “I have 34 kids in my sculpture class. One student is in a wheelchair, and since my classroom is 5 steps down, he can’t get in to the class. The administration’s response is, ‘he can stay in the hallway and you’ll bring him work.‘ You can’t have a sculpture class by yourself in the hallway!” I asked why they can’t build a ramp, she said maybe they will — in 6 months? 9 months? As usual when my colleague tells me about the craziness she contends with in trying to do her job as a teacher, I just listened, uncomfortably aware that I can’t console or reassure her or do anything to remedy the situation.
I was at an event that night and happened across a disability rights lawyer. I asked her about my colleague’s scenario. She gave me her cell phone # and told me to have the teacher give it to the student’s family — the student has a chance at legal rights if his family will pursue it. She said “…I spend a lot of my time getting mad.”
I asked the advocate, “what got you mad today?” She said “this girl who had a traumatic brain injury, is cognitively impaired and blind, and her IEP goals are all visual: ‘she will be able to identify the color red.’”
Where does this disregard come from? Surely administrators KNOW better than to stick a kid in a wheelchair out in the hall for class and to sign off on a plan for a blind student to learn colors. Either they don’t care — these details are too small for their notice — or they don’t know what to do — helpless, overwhelmed, whatever. What does it take to infuse dignity into school life?