President Cullinan and Dean Arp,
I am writing in support of Ms. Eliza Schaaf, an non-enrolled student auditing an Introduction to Ceramics course this fall, who has been excluded from completing her class due to the university's concerns about her ability to intellectually benefit from the course.
I am the author of a book on post-se
condary education options for students with significant disabilities entitled The Power to Spring Up (Woodbine House Publishing, 2009), which directly addresses many of the issues surrounding Ms. Schaaf's enrollment at your institution. I have had the privilege of interviewing and visiting staff and students at colleges and universities in the United States which have embraced the presence of students with developmental disabilities (including Down Syndrome) in college classes. This is an emerging field, born of the belief that individuals with disabilities, like individuals without disabilities, have the ability and the desire to continue learning after high school. Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities do have the need for reasonable accommodations and the responsibility to provide for any support needs they may have that exceed these. Based on the information provided on-line and in the media, it seems that Ms. Schaaf and her support team were willing to provide that support in order to meet her additional needs. The petitions and statements of her peers is also very powerful and should be treated with respect.
Upon visiting the Southern Oregon University's website, I was surprised and somewhat saddened to read that SOU strives to be an "inclusive community" as indicated by your mission statement and the video of Ms. Monica Alfara, a 2010 graduate who is Deaf. The university's initial actions barring Ms. Schaaf from class, and resolution of the grievance by allowing her to complete her projects separate from class time argue against this statement. A statement of inclusion is a powerful thing to individuals with disabilities, their families, and allies. Providing accommodations and support for some students and not others is disheartening to our community and ultimately dishonest to the community as a whole. This is a chance for the university to make its mission statement a reality, not just a marketing strategy.
I would welcome this opportunity to discuss policies and to brainstorm solutions in this case, as well as those cases which will surely follow. I have also enclosed several other resources and contact information which you may find useful.
Feel free to contact me at the following address if I can be of any assistance. Thank you for your time and attention.
Diana M. Katovitch, M.S.
http://www.thinkcollege.net/ (Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts, Boston. Contact person is Cate Weir)
www.transitioninstitute.org/thinkcollegeny (University of Rochester. Contact person is Martha Mock)
Think College by Meg Grigal and Deborah Hart (book)