June 17, 2015
Dr. Susan Enfield, Superintendent of Highline Schools
Deborah Holcomb, Director of Special Services and Student Support
Highline School Board Members:
Tyronne Curry, Sr., Angelica Alvarez, Joe Van, Bernie Dorsey, and Michael Spear
15675 Ambaum Blvd SW
Burien, WA 98166
Dear Dr. Enfield, Deborah Holcomb, and our Highline School Board:
I am writing to you as a parent, an advocate, and a community leader. I have a great concern that our students with disabilities are not being fully included in Highline Schools, nor are their needs being met.
As a parent and advocate, I have experienced first-hand, or had a parent tell me directly the following incidents over the last month: a kindergarten student in an ILC class was not included in their school’s kindergarten promotion. A principal asked an ILC teacher, in front of me, not to bring her class down to the cafeteria on the day parents were invited to eat with their students because it was too crowded. Third grade students in the ILC class at an elementary school, where they are to have Chrome Books as part of a 1:1 technology program, never received their Chrome Book computers despite having raised the issue to the principal and to Highline administration. A high school student’s parent was told at an IEP meeting that the teacher and the principal did not know enough to help support their student and that they should consider paying for private school. An elementary school student’s parent was told, in front of me by the assistant principal, that their student would not receive the supports their son needed, despite having it outlined in the IEP. Three students who use wheelchairs at an elementary school were not included outside on the field because their wheelchairs could not go on the grass, so they were brought to the edge, rather than bringing the activities to where they could participate, and three paraeducators had to stay with them.
These examples are not meant to throw any teacher, administrator or staff member “under the bus,” by any means. These examples do not show what has happened behind the scenes, and often this is a miscommunication or misunderstanding. These examples, however, do point to a climate and culture that disregards students with special needs. Our students with disabilities are often forgotten about or disregarded when it comes to basic inclusion. Their academic learning, along with social emotional learning, is halted by the climate and culture of our schools. As a result, we know many parents who are choosing to homeschool their students because they do not find their student’s needs are being met in current Highline classroom settings and do not have any other appropriate options.
This is not something that can be fully changed by Highline Schools—it is going to take all of us who live in Highline to change the greater culture as this is a systemic issue. As learning disabilities are diagnosed earlier and the rates of Autism diagnosis are increasing as reported by the CDC, we must work to change our climate and culture to one of inclusion for all. All of our students are students first, regardless of gender, race, language, culture, economic background or ability. All must mean all. If we truly are to know every student by name, strength and need, that means that every single student of all abilities are known and their needs are met and strengths acknowledged.
To change our climate and culture around inclusion we must change our language. I am requesting that our district become fluent in student-first language. I am requesting that we stop using program-based language and models. My child is not an ILC student. My child is a first-grade student at Midway Elementary School.
All must mean all. Schools with 1:1 technology must have that technology available for all students, regardless of ability. If you plan on 25 students in a classroom, you plan on 25 desks and chairs. If a student uses a wheelchair, after assessing the student’s needs you might move a chair out, but you plan on having 25 desks and chairs. Promotion and graduation ceremonies must include all students of that grade who are being promoted and graduating. Field trips for a grade level must include all students. Activities for families at schools must include all students. In addition, all students benefit when certain accommodations are made. Just as we all at times use ramps that are installed primarily for wheelchairs, all of our students will benefit from smaller classrooms, better technology and more support.
This is a plea from a mother of an almost second grader, and other parents of students with differing needs. The clock is ticking on our students. This is the opportunity for us in Highline to be leaders in our community. This is the time for our students to learn from each other through inclusion so that when the time comes and they are in the workforce, they already know people of different abilities. Our segregated model and language must end. We know that most of the time people have good intentions and it isn’t intentional that our students are left out. However, we must make it intentional to include them, and include everyone.
Thank you for your time.
Mindi Welton-Mitchell, President
Erin Baker, Vice-President
Melissa Feroe, Treasurer
Nicole Gifford, Secretary
Michelle O’Dell, Family and Community Engagement
Highline Special Needs PTA Board of Directors 2015-2016