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Last week the Department of Public Instruction-Exceptional Children Programs presented to the Education Oversight Committee a report detailing the current state of educational service models for students with disabilities.  During this presentation it was revealed that 4 LEA's in 2006-2007 did not graduate a single student with a disability.  The report also disclosed that fewer than 42% of students with disabilities did not attain a Level III score or better on the End-of-Course tests. 

Late today we received the full, eighteen page report from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Exceptional Children Programs.   How many students with disabilities dropped out last year? 4,050. How many students graduated with a diploma? 5,179. How many students received a certificate? 1,011.  How do these dropout numbers compare to previous reports? In 2003-2004 there were 3,876 dropouts, and in 2004-2005 there were 3,799.  These numbers are based on youth with IEP's.

Who were those four LEA's that did not graduate a single student with a disability, and how many students were affected?  Now we know.  The 4 LEAs had a total drop out number of 56 students.  Scotland County had all 38 of its students with disabilities drop out.  That is 100%.  Scotland County was joined by Chatham County (4), Graham County (6) and Franklin County (8).  What was not mentioned in the presentation, but was included in the report was that five Charter schools also had a 100% drop out rate for students with disabilities.  These Charter schools are Central Park (1), Chatham Charter (1), Crossroads Charter High (2), Sandhills Theatre Arts Renaissance (1), and Woods Charter (1).

Three LEA's and eight Charter schools did manage to have 100% of students with disabilities exit with either a diploma or a certificate in 2006-2007.  The LEAs are Thomasville City Schools (9), Tyrrell County Schools (8), and Camden Schools (3).  The Charter schools are CG Woodson School of Challenge (1), East Wake Academy (2), Gray Stone Day (1), Hawbridge School (6), Kennedy Charter (5), Pace Academy (12), Raleigh Charter High (12), and River Mill Academy (3).

These sixty two children attending these four LEA's and Charter schools are just tip of the iceberg.  There are over 4,000 students with disabilities who did not get a cap and gown last year, who did not hear pomp and circumstance, and who did not receive a diploma or a certificate from their high school.  Clearly, we need to continue to challenge our schools to do more for students with disabilities, who deserve and should demand equitable educational opportunity. 

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The Education Oversight Committee met on Tuesday to hear a presentation on the status of students with disabilities in our public education system. During the 2007 long session the general assembly passed House Bill 17 (Session Law 207-295) which required the Department of Public Instruction to identify various models being utilized to deliver education and other services at the high school level to children with disabilities.
The presentation on Tuesday was a direct result of this law, and the numbers and recommendations left more questions than answers. Let’s start with the numbers.

In regards to student performance, “fewer than 42% of students with disabilities scored Level III or above on the 2006-2007 End-of-Course Tests in core academics.” Looking at service delivery models as dictated by House Bill 17, we learned that in 2006-2007 48,387 students with disabilities were enrolled in grades 9-12. Of those students, 51.4% spent 80% of their day in general education, 22.4% spent 40-79% of their day in general education (resource setting), 21.9% spent 39% or less of their day in general education (separate setting) and 4.3% were in a separate school or homebound educational setting.

The bombshell of the day came when the presentation turned to student outcomes. 6 LEAs (Local Education Agency) had over 80% of students with disabilities exit with a diploma. 24 LEAs had 75% of students with disabilities exit school with either a diploma, a graduation certificate or a certificate of achievement. However, how that percentage broke down among those categories was never specified. Then there were the 4 LEAs that had 100% of students with disabilities exit school as dropouts.

You read that correctly. In 2006-2007, 4 LEAs reported that 100% of the students with disabilities exiting school were dropouts. The presentation did not discuss which LEAs are in this last group or how many students are represented by this abysmal percentage. To me it does not matter if it is one student or 20 students. It does not matter if it is a small LEA or a large LEA. The fact that in 2006-2007 in these 4 LEAs not a single student with a disability exited with a diploma, or a certificate of achievement, or a certificate of attendance but simply dropped out is disgraceful.

We have got to stop throwing away our future. We need to invest in an equitable academic opportunity for youth with disabilities. As ruled in the Leandro vs. North Carolina, the North Carolina constitution mandates that all of our citizens have a right to a sound, basic education. All includes students with disabilities.

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Really, it’s true. I can not be cured.  I was born with my disability and I am going to die with my disability.  My disability does not define me, but is simply part of who I am.  I will never recover from it.  Throughout my life I am going to require different supportive services.  When I was born, my disability did not cause any issues in my life.  By the time I was a teen I needed to use crutches on occasion.  In my twenties I need to brace specific joints to keep them in place.  At the age of thirty I purchased my first wheelchair.  In 2001 I found out that I was loosing my hearing.  I started to learn sign language so that I could return to college and successfully complete my bachelor’s degree.   What the future holds is a mystery to me.  Will I need more adaptive equipment, a power chair or a personal care attendant? I have no clue.  I can tell you with certainty that this situation is not unique to me.  These are the stories shared by the thousands of people who have developmental disabilities.  It is a story that does not fit into the current “recovery model” of Mental Health Reform.  It does not fit neatly in a box.  

People with developmental disabilities have been forced, since Mental Health Reform, to try and fit into a recovery model that ignores their unique needs.  Children with developmental disabilities require early intervention services that will maximize their individual strengths and provide a strong base for a child to acquire independent living skills.  Early intervention increases the potential for a future high quality of life.  During the most formative school years, children with developmental disabilities deserve an equitable education. Adults with developmental disabilities need to have access to services that both increase independence and provide support where it is needed. 

We do not need to recover from our disability.  We do not need to be cured.  It is a part of who we are. 

Want more information:

Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation, http://www.ednf.org/