Don’t Be Afraid to Send Your Disabled Child to Public School

Since 1999, more and more disabled children are being homeschooled. There is limited research on this topic, but it is one of great interest to myself and others. A child having a psychiatric disability or a physical disability, or both, has been cited as a reason why parents homeschool. And this is understandable. I have been disabled all my life, and I know how frustrating it can be to try and get a public or even private school to accommodate disability.

I have seen both sides of this. When I lived on the east coast, in Syracuse, I went to public schools in the Westhill school district, a suburban area. My hearing loss was discovered when I was attending Holy Family Nursery School. I was 4 years old. I was fitted with hearing aids and very shortly afterwards started kindergarten at Cherry Road School. I was lucky. Schools in the Westhill district were very good. Even though I did not learn sign language, and I should have, my teachers were attentive and aware of my needs. I went to speech pathology every week, leaving my main classroom to work with Miss Mangano, who was an excellent speech therapist. I will always be grateful for the work she did with me. I continued speech pathology into third grade. I loved school, I was very good at reading, and my teachers challenged and encouraged me. They were invested in my success, and the success of all their students. The school was well-funded and parents were very involved. My third grade teacher even made sure I knew about some Deaf history.

In fourth grade, I moved to Oregon. I continued speech pathology but it was not as wonderful as it had been. The school I went to was the poorest in the district. I do not feel that my teachers were very aware of my disability at all. I also began to struggle with math. Most of the time, I felt bored with school, and I no longer liked it. My parents had the opportunity to send me to a private school, but since I had made friends at this new school, decided against it. I am actually ok with that because I met my best friend of 30 years at this elementary school and that has been a great gift to my life. However, I probably would have enjoyed going to a better school, academically. I tested very high, and that is why I could have gone to another school.

In about 1993, I started middle school at a school located very close to downtown. I had some great teachers, but they were overwhelmed. The school was underfunded. I remember classes being so crowded that I sat on the floor. We did not have textbooks. Many of the kids’ parents were drug addicts. The kids were also starting to turn to drugs. There were major problems at this school. I began to skip class and went to hang out downtown with my best friends. No one seemed to notice, so no one told my father. Speech pathology was cancelled, because there was no money in the budget for it. My struggles with math were handled by the administration saying I no longer had to take math classes. As a kid, I was totally fine with that!

Years passed and my father became distressed with how bad the schools in Eugene were. My mother was living in Syracuse, so he sent me back to live with her, and once again attend school in the Westhill district. One good thing about school in Oregon is that I had finally learned sign language, in 9th grade. Westhill High School, where I was sent, had a Deaf program.

Westhill was amazing. It was a public school, but it felt like a private school. It did have some issues because many of the students were wealthy and sheltered, and I was neither of those things. Teachers and the administration were unsure what to do with me. However, my mother advocated for me and things improved on that front. For the first time in my life, I was in a school with a Deaf program. I met other Deaf kids my age and talked to them in sign language. I had interpreters in my classes. If I needed hearing aid batteries, the office had them. Also, my difficulty in math was noticed. Unlike Oregon, I had to pass Course One math to graduate high school. Westhill had an excellent resource center and I was tutored one on one, which is ideal for hard of hearing or Deaf students. I began to achieve highly, and did very well in math. I once again liked school. I was not bored, I was challenged.

It can certainly be hard to get into a school like Westhill. I know that is not available to everyone. However, disabled students need a lot of support. In some cases, homeschool can be fine. For me, going to a public school was incredibly important to my future success. I needed Miss Rein, who was skilled in teaching disabled students math. I needed the other Deaf kids and the interpreters. I needed people who all had backgrounds and training in helping students like me. I was skilled at art, and I needed my art teacher, who understood that part of me. And I needed my speech pathologists. Westhill prepared me for college, and now I am working on my second master’s.

While we have all heard horror stories, or maybe even experienced them, about disability in public school, do not be afraid to send your disabled child to one. If it is like the schools I went to in Oregon, then that is not ideal, no. Sometimes it takes some looking, moving things around, etc. Public school can be a wonderful thing. It can be just what your disabled child may need, because there are so many supports in a public school. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find a good one. It is worth it when you do.

This is not to disparage homeschool. I think there are ways to successfully homeschool disabled children. However, I am glad that I went to public school and I am glad that my parents took the trouble to send me to a good one. Disabled children need a lot of support that a parent alone cannot offer. Also, parents need support, too. Consider public school as an option.


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