Home > Uncategorized > When High Standards and High Needs Collide An Engaged Parent Helps

When High Standards and High Needs Collide An Engaged Parent Helps

Elizabeth Harris’  article in today’s NYTimes describes the tireless efforts of Laurie DeVito, a Brooklyn mother, to help her high needs son, Dylan Cunningham, earn a high school diploma. The article described DeVito’s support for her son from the time he entered preschool at the age of two through his high school years at Bay Ridge SChool, a privately operated school that requires its students to meet the Regent’s state standards in order to graduate. The Regents require students to pass five tests. Mr. Cunningham passed four of them without difficulty, but fell one point short on the Algebra tests after taking it three times and was denied a diploma. This caused Ms. DeVito to take her appeal to higher levels… and because of her compelling story she was able to elicit sympathy from both the Chancellor of NY Schools and the Regents Chair… and a change to the policy at the State level:

In September, a new rule that would allow an appeal for special education students who score at least a 52 was proposed at a Regents meeting. The board is likely to vote on it in December.

“Certainly she was a great advocate for her child,” Ms. Elia said in an interview. “It helped us clarify and look at a number of regulations to make sure there’s equity there for our students with disabilities.”

Though the idea of removing an obstacle to graduation may sound to some like a lowering of standards and expectations for students with disabilities, Ms. Tisch was quick to bat away such concerns.

“We do not want schools to offer these kids less,” Ms. Tisch said. The goal, she said, is to figure out “how do you include these students in the raising of the standards without diminishing their ability to achieve at their own level?

“How do you not write them out of the script of high achievement?”

Dylan Cunningham’s mother went to bat for him from the day he set foot in school and fought against a mindless “one size fits all” standard. There are countless children attending schools across NYS who don’t have a parent with the wherewithal of Laurie De Vito but whose stories are similar to Dennis Cunnigham’s, for I know from experience that many children who would benefit from special education services do not receive them due to the school district’s inability to provide them and/or the lack of a parent advocate. There are even more children who are raised in poverty whose parents are unable to monitor their child’s performance in school the way Ms. De Vito was able to do so for her son because they are working multiple jobs or fang the countless challenges that accompany poverty. I hope that at some point the Regents get a phone call from a persistent parent in those circumstances and give some thought to how they might address that inequity.

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