Saturday, December 18, 2010

Thought you might like to know...

Dear All,

Your interest, love and support have been incredible! What an amazing world we live in where one is even able to share a story like Eliza's and it travels so far and so fast. We have tried over the last few weeks to get back to some kind of normal, although have come to the conclusion that this is virtually impossible. Eliza is still very disappointed and pretty much daily says that "SOU is stuck in my brain." Your good thoughts and positive comments
have been great, but the fact remains that most of the people we bump into in our daily routines are still mystified over SOU's actions. I can't begin to describe the number of conversations I've had with people I have never previously met who are quick to share that the whole ordeal has been the topic at many dinner tables - all just shake their heads and wonder how Eliza's first college experience went down this path.

As for Eliza, she maintains that she still REALLY wants to take some other classes and be a student at SOU and we can clearly see that for her the only real satisfying resolution is to try and help make that happen. We, like she and others of you, can not figure out what she did that warranted the reaction and - with much advice coming from knowledgeable people all over the country - we have now filed a formal grievance.

For us, we are optimistic that this will bring a resolution that everyone can feel good about and allow Eliza, our family and our community to move beyond this chapter to what everyone would like to see - a school that can be accepting, diverse and inclusive instead of exclusionary. Embracing learning and the continuing education of all people makes sense and - as so many of you have so passionately pointed out - it should and IS being done in ever increasing numbers in a variety of programs at colleges and universities throughout the country.

Below I want to share with you links to some of the information that has poured in:

Perhaps most telling is a Huffington Post article: More Intellectually Disabled Youths Go To College which states that 8 years ago there were only 4 programs on college campuses for students with Intellectual Disabilities and in 2009, there were over 250.

From my Mom, who lives in State College, PA and whose 90th birthday Eliza and I were fortunate enough to be able to celebrate on December 4th (Happy birthday and thanks Grandma Lu!) came this March 2010 article and an emmy award-winning documentary video made in 2004 of a program called Lifelink PSU that Penn State University offers in conjunction with the State College Area School District to give 18-21 year old students with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to experience college life. Increasingly, communities are recognizing the positive benefits of allowing students with intellectual disabilities a meaningful college experience alongside non-disabled peers, encouraging social and academic growth and helping participants reach their highest level of independence.

This Viktor Frankl: Why to believe in others video clip was posted in honor of Eliza on Diana Katovitch's December BLOG. Diana is the author of The Power to Spring Up: Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Significant Disabilities (Woodbine House, 2009) and contacted Eliza to offer her full support in helping Eliza reach her dreams. The video is a wonderful example of why aiming high should always be the norm to allow each person to reach their full potential. Thank you Diana! is another site filled with all kinds of information on what is happening in the world of post secondary education for students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

Yesterday I received two emails - the first was the December 2010 issue of the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) Communicator. The second was The Arc of the United State's December 2010 Newletter forwarded on to me by Trish Pelzel, Executive Director of our local Arc of Jackson County. Below are the lead stories in each:

The NDSC Communicator
_____________________________________________December, 2010
Advocacy: A Great Way to End the Year
All year long, we've been encouraging you to "bust myths" about people with Down syndrome, to advocate and to promote awareness. Well, here's one more chance before 2010 is over.
Last month, self-advocate Eliza Schaaf was withdrawn from an introduction to ceramics class at her local university, raising a lot of awareness in Southern Oregon. Students held protests, letters were written and petitions were signed, but the school would not allow Eliza to finish the course. We'd love to let the university know that this action has also gotten the attention of the rest of the country. You can read the background on this story here.
Wouldn't it be great if Southern Oregon University's president received notes from all of us, expressing our concern about the university's policy in this area? Add one more name to your holiday greetings list, and send a note to:
Mary Cullinan, Office of the President
Churchill Hall 125
1250 Siskiyou Blvd
Ashland, OR 97520

From the Arc of the United State - December Newsletter:

Student with Down syndrome Ousted from Southern Oregon University Class
In November, Southern Oregon University’s dean of students upheld the school’s decision to drop a 20-year-old woman with Down syndrome from auditing a university-level ceramics class because she was not academically qualified, despite an outpouring of support for the student from the community, disability advocates and her fellow students who pointed out that she simply wanted the experience of attending college like anyone else.
Eliza Schaaf received a certified letter just before Thanksgiving from Dean of Students Laura O'Bryan stating that no accommodations are available to Schaaf that would enable her participation without altering the coursework. The school objected to the presence of a personal assistant to help Eliza and had sent her a letter earlier ending her enrollment with just seven classes remaining in the course. Eliza’s supporters were surprised by the notice, contending that she had initially been accepted by the school and was seemingly doing fine in her class.
Read the Arc blog post.


And lastly - here is a link to the Portland, Oregon News Channel 8 story that aired on December 2nd.


  1. In case Southern Oregon thinks college is a new idea that they are not ready for, note my article saying the same thing that Eliza is saying about her rights, 30 YEARS AGO. (It used old-fashioned language back then.) College Education for Mentally Retarded Adults, published in the journal Mental Retardation 18:59-62 (1980)

  2. I just heard about Eliza's situation and I'm heartbroken. As someone who comes from a small private liberal arts education, I am appalled at SOU's actions.

    That being said, I'm sure other universities would be elated to have Eliza as a student. SOU doesn't deserve someone as dedicated and passionate at Eliza.

  3. Hey Deb
    This is spencer from the ceramics studio. I had a couple of questions for you and was wondering if you could email me at when you get a chance. Thank you