I am reposting this verbatim from a mailing list. As a friend just said, “That’s A) disgusting, B) deserves a lawsuit.”
Call for Immediate Action:
Below is a letter from a mother regarding an egregious example of mistreatment of her daughter, a member of our special needs community. Brigid, a girl with autism and a serious physical injury, will not be graduating with her class, and will lose out on a scholarship that she has earned to Cornell College because her school district has refused to accommodate her special needs!
We cannot let this stand. As individuals, family members and friends of specials needs, and people who believe in justice, we must immediately voice our support for Brigid and demand that she be given credit for her work and be allowed to graduate with her class! Our children with special needs within the public and private school system depend upon our taking a stand in situations like this, so that other children do not suffer what Brigid has been forced to endure.
Please join with me to demand justice for Brigid, who has worked so hard to appease a school system that has refused to provide her with appropriate accommodations, discriminated against her and publicly humiliated her! Below are the email addresses of officials of the Catholic Diocese of Portland, the Principal of Catherine McAuley High school where Brigid attended and Department of Education officials from the state of Maine.
Please inundate their email inboxes and telephone with a voice of support for Brigid. We must show her and the rest of the world that the special needs community supports its own and stands together against discrimination and abuse of this sort!
Here are the email addresses and phone numbers to contact:
Bill Wood, Parish Services Coordinator
Bishop Richard Malone, Th.D.
Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland
1-207-773-0182 – fax
Principal of Catherine McAuley Highschool
1-207-797-3804 – fax
David Noble Stockford
Policy Director and Team Leader, Special Services
Maine Department of Education
1-207-624-6651 – fax
Maine Advisory Council on Education of Children with Disabilities
Maine Department of Education
1-207-624-6651 – fax
Rhonda J. Greenhaw Wood
WOARN – Wisconsin Organizing for Autism Rights Now
Here is the letter her mother wrote the Catholic Diocese of Portland:
Dear Mr. W,
I am contacting you because of your role in Disability Services for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. My daughter has attended Catherine McAuley High school for 4 years. She is a wonderful young woman, who works very hard, and has suffered greatly from the misunderstandings, intolerance, and most importantly, from the code of silence surrounding disabilities at McAuley High School.
Brigid is a student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In addition, she sustained a closed head injury in March, 2005. This injury resulted in her spending the remainder of her sophomore year at the outpatient clinic of New England Rehabilitation Hospital. Brigid strove hard to regain lost skills and to relearn new skills. She completed the coursework for her sophomore year 2 days before her junior year started.
Since that time, Brigid has been absent from school for extended periods of time, due to a seizure disorder resulting from the closed head injury. She has also missed school due to unrelated surgeries. The Principal has always been informed of absences and concerns by Brigid’s physicians and myself. Brigid was, on several occasions, under physician’s orders to refrain from attending school.
Throughout this time, the Administration of the High School has consistently prevented staff from pertinent knowledge regarding Brigid’s absences. The school nurse was not given copies of physician’s notes, letters or recommendations. The Guidance staff was unaware of many challenges this child faces until the middle of this academic year.
As a result, Brigid has been repeatedly academically penalized for physician ordered absences. This is discrimination. She has been humiliated in public. She has been afforded few accommodations, and little, or no, understanding or compassion. Silence and withholding of information by the Administration have been tools of abuse.
The stress of this constant abuse to a young disabled girl led her to a suicide attempt this academic year. With full knowledge of this, the Administration made no changes in the code of silence. Teachers were left to believe that Brigid was truant, lazy, unwilling to work, when, in fact, the opposite was true. Brigid received a failing grade for an assignment involving small motor control, strength, and coordination.
She was unable to do this assignment to the teacher’s expectations because of a documented disability. Brigid received class participation grades of 0% for physician ordered absences. Work delayed due to seizures were graded as late assignments.
On her return to school following a month of seizures, Brigid completed 3 weeks of work within one week, while keeping up with her current assignments. She did this in order to participate in an extra curricular activity. My daughter made a Herculean effort to complete work, as if she were not disabled, and succeeded. Her reward was cruel. She was pulled off of the bus in front of her peers and informed that she may not attend the extracurricular activity she worked so hard for.
This is just one example.
This Spring, Brigid’s counselor and Sweetser Case management and her Neurologist determined that attending Catherine McAuley High School was adverse to Brigid’s health. Brigid continued to work at home on her assignments, I continued to deliver these to staff as I was able. Some staff were not notified that Brigid would not be in school or that assignments were to be delivered to the office for me to pick up. Consequently, the assignments were withheld.
It took several weeks for Brigid to regain the strength and courage to enter school again. Two weeks ago, the Principal informed Brigid’s counselor that this effort would ensure that Brigid could graduate with her class. With help, Brigid managed to attend school every day. She made a concentrated effort to complete all work to the best of her ability, communicate with staff, and do well on her tests.
Today was the last day of classes. Brigid had work completed. Quizzes, tests, final exams complete. Brigid turned in her essay for English class. Brigid had been one of the few students who had read the assigned text. She received one of the highest grades in the quiz about the book. She had a 30 minute conversation with the teacher about the book in early April. Following this conversation, the teacher reported at a meeting with Administration, myself, and Sweetser that Brigid knew the material well. She later requested that Brigid write an additional essay about the book.
Today, when Brigid gave this essay to the teacher, the teacher informed Brigid that she had decided not to accept the work. Brigid will receive a zero, and fail.
A similar occurrence took place last term. Although the Principal told myself, staff, and Brigid, that work outstanding (due to medical concerns) would be accepted until a stated date, one teacher capriciously decided to ignore the Principal’s decision. Brigid received a failing grade for doing all of her work very well and giving it to the teacher on time.
The Principal’s responses have been that teachers make their own decisions for their own classes and that this matter is not in her control.
Again, Brigid has learned that some people are not true to their word and that this is considered acceptable by an educational leader and a spiritual leader.
This most recent decision on the part of one staff member, if left unchecked, will compromise Brigid’s future. Brigid will be unable to attend Cornell College, or take advantage of their generous offer of a four year academic scholarship as well as financial aide.
The code of silence at McAuley which surrounds disabilities, combined with the lack of acceptance, accommodation, charity, or decency has damaged my daughter’s educational experience, spiritual experience, sense of trust, and quality of life.
I would have notified you of these egregious events during the past 3 years, but I did not know of the existence of your office and ministry. During the past year, I have notified the Bishop, as well as leaders of Catholic Education in Maine. I have attempted to work constructively with the Disability Rights Center, Sweetser Case Management, Family Crisis Services, physicians, social workers, counselors and the Administration of McAuley High School. My daughter has suffered. She has learned some very hard lessons of loss from the individuals entrusted with her spiritual, moral and academic education.
I do not know if you can help my daughter in any way. I appreciate the time you have taken to read this.