Sunday, November 21, 2010

Letter of Support from Pearl Paulson, PhD

This is one of over 40 letters SOU President Mary Cullinan and Dean Alissa Arp have received since Nov 13th. Please go to Letters of Support tab above to read the rest.
Dear President Cullinan and Dean Arp:

I apologize for sending an email instead of using USPS, but I understand time is of the essence in respect to Eliza Schaaf's audit of a ceramics
class on your campus. I am not acquainted with Eliza or the class in question. My concerns regarding her exclusion stem from my career in special education: On the faculty at Eastern Michigan University's Department of Special Education, as an educational evaluator and outreach provider at the Child Development and Rehabilitation Center, Oregon Health Sciences University (where I was also an associate professor of Family Medicine), and more recently a special education administrator in Oregon's second largest school district. Let it be understood that I have first-hand experience and endless empathy for educational institutions' challenge in serving a wide range of students with limited resources. I am also deeply committed to having students like Eliza enjoy lifelong learning experiences in environments shared by learners without recognized disabilities.

I have read the letters Southern Oregon sent to Eliza and her parents. I can understand how the described circumstances would concern the professor, although some would seem more relevant if Eliza were enrolled for credit instead of auditing. The letters do not give information about the timing of observations, or of specific interference with other students' participation. The letter is also unspecific about the nature or extent of accommodations that have been tried by the faculty or fellow students. Finally, I am concerned that SOU students without recognized disabilities may be missing a rare opportunity to increase their own understanding of people like Eliza and build appreciation of the "normalcy" of students somewhat unlike themselves.

Accordingly, I beg you not only to reconsider your decision to exclude Eliza, but to build a policy of inclusion, as would be in keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I also urge you, based on my own experience serving this population, to consider accommodations suggested by Eliza and her family--for your own sake: When families have members with disabilities, they chalk up years of experience learning simple, practical ways to surmount all kinds of challenges, and historically educational institutions have benefited from their accumulated wisdom.

Pearl Paulson, PhD

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