Dear Commissioner Robinson and the members of the Florida Board of Education,
I write to you today, filled with concern for your upcoming decision to assign grades to Jacksonville’s “center schools” – Mt. Herman and Alden Road. I implore you to consider the far-reaching consequences of such a decision, consequences that will not only affect the lives of the hardworking students and staff at these schools and their families, but the rest of our city as well. If Mt. Herman and Alden Road are awarded the grade of “F” because the students are required to take the F.A.A., an assessment made impossible by their level of disability, then we are telling the community at large that disabled children are incapable of learning, progressing, or achieving.
That disabled children cannot learn, progress, or meet a set of standards is certainly not the case. However, they need an educational space that understands their individual needs and provides a curriculum that helps them uncover their potential. Speaking as a disabled woman who has been academically successful, I understand the value of an education that address my needs and encourages me to achieve. When you give these children an assessment that does not comply with their needs and accordingly deliver the school a grade of “F”, you are telling the community at large that disabled children have nothing to offer and do not merit the attention and dedication that other nondisabled students deserve.
We in the disabled community have spent a long time trying to help people understand that disability is not just a medical mishap, a series of misfortunes, or a financial burden. Disability is what happens when a medical impairment is met with a society that does not value the individual enough to help him or her work around it.
I encourage you to reconsider grading these center schools, because such a process will further disable the children who attend them in the eyes of the entire community. In today’s fast-paced, achievement-oriented society, we all must acknowledge that we are not perfectly autonomous. We all have some kind of educational need, some preferred learning style. Remember the people in your lives who helped you work through your personal difficulties as a student. Remember the teachers who took the time to explain something to you a different way. Remember the feeling of empowerment that comes with an educator, a family member, a community that believes in you and expresses that belief every day.
The educators and staff at Mt. Herman and Alden Road are the daily dispensers of belief for their students. Now you have the opportunity to bolster that belief as well and set an example for the rest of the state – not by assessing these children with methods that ignore their needs and thwart their achievement, but by supporting and celebrating two schools that embrace their students’ special needs and help them uncover their hidden gifts.
I implore you to place your belief carefully, in a system that has done so much good for these students, for their families, and for our community. Please do not give Mt. Herman and Alden Road the grade of “F” and take away their ability to encourage and educate these students.
Thank you for your time.
If you share my view, if the spirit moves you, please click on this link and submit a message to our Commissioner and Board of Education. Select “Commissioner and Board of Education” from the drop-down menu and submit the existing letter or one of your own.