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Friday, February 24, 2012

Florida charter-school movement and disabled students' equal access to education

From the Disability Studies in the Humanities [DS-HUM] Listserv:

Dear listers,

I need the advice of the wise souls on this listserv as to whether my apprehensions are accurate or overblown. A bad situation, it seems to me, is developing here in Florida with regard to equal access to education.

A radical bunch has taken over the Florida Board of Education, and next week they are set to adopt policies that, over the coming decades, will make the school system so inhospitable to disabled children that it will drive them out of it. The policies are designed to promote the charter-school movement, of which Florida is in the vanguard.

Next week, Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson and the Florida Board of Education are going to adopt an extensive set of policies relating to how schools are graded. A school’s grade currently is determined by the cumulative scores its students earn on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), taken by typically developing children, and on the Florida Alternative Assessment (FAA), taken by students whose IEPs stipulate this test the appropriate one.

The proposed changes that bear on disabled students have to do with requiring EVERY student to take either the FCAT or the FAA. My 12-year-old son, who is blind and a spastic quad (CP) and has no speech and is severely cognitively impaired, works on life skills at his school such as swallowing soft solid food, self feeding, and learning to use three-dimensional touch symbols to signal his basic needs. The FAA assesses academics skills in reading and math and does not bother testing for the things my son works on. Still, the proposed rules say my son must take the FAA. His score will be 0, and, along with the other E.S.E. students in the school similarly scoring 0, this large number of 0s entering into the school’s overall score will earn the school an F. Receiving an F then will set in motion a process leading to the school being taken over by a private charter. The private charters already operating in Florida do not accept disabled students, as this NPR news report makes c!
 lear (“Florida Charter Schools Failing Disabled Students,” by JOHN O'CONNOR and SARAH GONZALEZ, Dec. 14th, 2011)

The new commissioner and the state board say the feds (“No Child Left Behind”) are forcing them to grade every school and score every child. However, the feds are doing no such thing. Following a Tea Party agenda, Commissioner Robinson and the board want to bring as many of Florida’s public schools' grades as possible down to F, thus making them candidates for charter takeover. An Orlando Sentinel article of June 21st, 2011, states, “[t]he state Board of Education voted unanimously to hire [the new Florida Education Commissioner Gerard] Robinson, who before his appointment in Virginia worked for a group that advocates for school choices outside traditional public schools.”

A privatized public school system here in Florida will become so inhospitable to disabled children that their parents will be forced to keep them at home. As far as I can see, these proposed changes are a clever way to take us back to pre-1973 by circumventing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and every federal legislative mandate since then. Am I wrong to see this move in such dark terms? Am I being paranoid?

If you would like to contact Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson yourself, you can reach him at the following:

Phone: (850) 245-0505

With best,

Prof. Chris Gabbard
Univ. of North Florida

"In Geometry the oblique must be known as well as the right,
and in Arithmetic the odd as well as the even."
                                        --Philip Sidney, *An Apology for Poetry*

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