Imagine your black child is asked to clean up trash throughout his school with all the other black students in an effort to learn life skills. White students are busy learning math, reading, writing, and socializing in the halls. They watch the black students clean up after them.
This smacks of demeaning and stigmatizing discrimination. It’s unbelievable in 2017! Except for the fact that if you replace black student with disabled student it’s a very real scenario in many schools throughout America today.
So, I’m about to go on a rant. Like a knock out, throw down tirade. Because this is something I feel VERY, VERY passionately about. My son with Down syndrome will NOT; I repeat, WILL NOT be cleaning his school while his typical twin brother is learning to read, write, and do math.
Having children with disabilities cleaning while their typical peers are learning is the anti-thesis of inclusion. It’s the very definition of discrimination.
This problem is very real at my 4-year-old son’s own school and too many of my friends’ children’s schools too. A dear friend of mine’s daughter with Down syndrome attends the same school as Troy. Her daughter and other students with disabilities learn to vacuum and wipe the cafeteria tables in kindergarten. KINDERGARTEN, people!!! The students that need more help and time in academics are being singled out to instead learn how to vacuum at age six.
I flinched when my friend told me this. Troy is only two years behind her daughter. Our experience in preschool at the school has been good, but I cannot envision Hunter watching his brother cleaning his table at school. Asking me after school: “Why isn’t Troy in class with me anymore? Why is he cleaning tables at lunch, instead of eating with me?” It literally rips my heart out to think about it. What will I do?
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Here’s the thing: I’m all for life skills. I think EVERY student can learn a thing or two about life by cleaning their school. I am in full support of bringing home-economics and shop class back. In Japan there are no janitors, because the students clean their school EVERY DAY. This is admirable! In fact, I would be proud if any one of my children chooses a profession in the janitorial, waste management, fast food industry, etc. My mother and step-father had jobs in both. NO job is beneath ANY of my children, disability or not. Getting a job and keeping it is what makes me proud.
The fact of the matter is my son and students like him are being singled out, and pigeon-holed into a stereotypical path for employment and life. Were they even asked what interests them; what they want to be when they grow up? Their typical peers are watching this cleaning scene unfold on a daily basis and here’s where their minds begin to be molded: disability is different, disability is separate, disability is dirty, disability is shameful.
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This mindset follows them throughout their educational career and into adulthood. Educators who support these programs argue they’re teaching these special students activities that “instill soft skills such as how to follow rules, adhere to a schedule, complete tasks and accept criticism.”
As students with disabilities enter high school it gets worse. Many are shuffled into a life skills path that supposedly prepares them for employment in the real world. Wanna know how that’s going? Only 24% of individuals with intellectual disabilities are competitively employed. News flash: the life skills path isn’t working!
Parents and Teachers Need to Demand Equitable Treatment of Students with Disabilities.
One Oklahoma mom is doing just that after her son with Down syndrome reacted with anger at being given a job of cleaning up after teachers and students at his school. Jordan Shuffield says her son, Christopher, “isn’t as verbal as some of the kids in his class but he does have feelings about it.”
Christopher lashed out in frustration on at least one occasion: “He had cleaned a table and a group of teachers sat at the table he cleaned. In his frustration he threw his bucket on the ground, and then had to mop up his mess,” Shuffield describes.
Now Shuffield has a meeting scheduled with the school this Friday to advocate for change. “We feel that having his class do this work at school isn’t inclusive,” Shuffield explains. “My son has lost skills, such as money denomination and simple addition and subtraction skills that he used to know.” The family believes if more time was spent on academics than cleaning, Christopher would be making better progress.
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Federal law and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling demands that Christopher and other students with disabilities make “meaningful progress.” Shuffield has every right to demand a change in how her son is being educated. We’ll check back in on their story as it unfolds.
Has your child or loved one experienced this type of discrimination in school? Comment with your stories below.