AAPD and Disability Rights Groups Request NEA Convene Disability Stakeholder Advisory Committee

Ms. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President
National Education Association
1201 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Ms. Garcia:

Thank you for taking the time to meet with a number of disability organizations on Tuesday, December 1st regarding your comments at the Campaign for America’s Future Awards Gala in October. We appreciate your time and your apology, particularly the posting of your apology on “Lily’s Blackboard” featured on the NEA homepage.

As we explained, your comments that teachers are responsible for diversifying the curriculum “to meet the personal individual needs of all our students, the blind, the hearing impaired, the physically challenged, the gifted and talented, the chronically tarded and the medically annoying” struck many parents, advocates, and professionals across this nation as unwelcoming and harsh, especially from someone in your position.  You lead almost 3 million of our nation’s teachers and, as such, your remarks set a tone for them too.  Your tone implied children with disabilities are a burden to teachers.  This is unacceptable.

We appreciate your apology, but think we need to take concrete steps to undo the damage that has been done. Thus, we see this event as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the NEA and the disability community. We share with the NEA the principle that public education is the gateway to opportunity.  For students with disabilities, like all other children and youth served by schools throughout the country, high quality instruction leads to success. Every student deserves an open and welcoming classroom and a well-qualified teacher.

The organizations signing this letter know that preK-12 education for children and youth with disabilities is a foundation for inclusion with access to postsecondary education, work, and a high quality of life. Our organizations represent self-advocates with disabilities, families, advocates, teachers, researchers, services providers, and many other providers with extensive knowledge, experience, and expertise regarding children and youth with disabilities, their development, health, and education. We all believe in the need for excellent public schools staffed by well-trained professionals who have high expectations and the knowledge, skills and desire to provide the best possible instruction for all students, including those with disabilities. Our groups also believe in the inclusive principle of “nothing about us without us,” meaning that no policy, program, or practice should be put in place regarding people with disabilities without substantial participation from those with disabilities.

It is with this principle in mind, and with a spirit of collaboratively undoing the damage that has been done that we request the NEA Board convene a Disability Stakeholder Advisory Committee as a formal mechanism to coordinate with the disability community on issues affecting children and youth with disabilities. Students with disabilities comprise more than 12% of the student population.  Research demonstrates that often what benefits these complex learners, really benefits all kids. To successfully build great public schools for every student and teacher, stakeholders must consider and understand the needs of children and youth with disabilities. We know school teams face challenges meeting the needs of students – including students with disabilities – every day, whether it’s due to academic or behavioral challenges. Therefore, we want to work together to help ensure schools have the resources, training and support necessary to provide the research-based instruction, accommodations, supports and services that students with disabilities need to succeed.

We believe, as you do, that public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed, and engaged. Our community stands ready to work with NEA and its leadership to ensure children and youth with disabilities, like all children, receive the best possible education from teachers of the highest professional caliber. We look to your response and speaking with you by the 21st.

 

Sincerely,

ADAPT

The Advocacy Institute

American Association on Health and Disability

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Council of the Blind

American Foundation for the Blind

American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR)

Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living

Association of University Centers on Disabilities

Autism Speaks

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Brain Injury Association of America

CANAR, Inc.

Council for Learning Disabilities

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates

Democrats for Education Reform

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Easter Seals

The Epilepsy Foundation

Goodwill Industries International

Higher Education Consortium for Special Education

Institute for Educational Leadership

Lakeshore Foundation

National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities

National Association of School Psychologists

National Association of the Deaf

National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery

National Center for Learning Disabilities

National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

National Council on Independent Living

National Down Syndrome Congress

National Down Syndrome Society

National Federation of the Blind

National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities

Not Dead Yet

Parent to Parent USA (P2P USA)

RespectAbility

TASH

Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children

Tourette Association of America

United Spinal Association

 

Contact information:

Michael Murray
Chief Operating Officer
American Association of People with Disabilities
202-521-4302
mmurray@aapd.com

 

cc:           John Stocks, Executive Director
John Riley, Special Education Specialist

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