School Board Elections are Important
What school board candidates believe about SEL and CRT may affect families who are advocating for inclusion for students with disabilities.
School board elections are important y'all.
And they are happening right now, all over the country. And what school board candidates believe about what is and isn't social-emotional learning, and/or Critical Race Theory may affect families who are advocating for inclusion for students with disabilities.
Just down the road from me, the Cherokee County School Board election is heating up. And while I don't live in Cherokee County, a friend and fellow inclusionist does.
My name is Stephanie Meredith and I'm the mother of Andy Meredith, who's 22 years old with Down syndrome. I live in Cherokee School District.
Stephanie wrote a letter to the editor of the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News, which was published on May 3, 2022. In it, she states that there are specific school board candidates that have been campaigning against a social-emotional learning curriculum that the Cherokee County School District recently rebranded to be called CCSD CARES, or Cultivating Achievement, Resiliency and Empowering of Students. Now, if you heard our CRT episode, this is the same school district that had hired Cecelia Lewis, a principal from Maryland as their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director but was pushed out of taking the job after some rumors were spread on social media connecting the hiring of Lewis to Critical Race Theory.
Here's a quote from the letter:
"As a parent of a former CCSD student with a disability, I have witnessed these types of programs support our students, who often get left behind when schools exclusively focus on reading, writing and arithmetic."
Stephanie says she wrote the letter because she…
had hoped that it would shift people's perspective to understand that there is a broader community of people who are impacted when they make these kinds of decisions.
From about 2005 to 2016, Stephanie was involved in running the Exceptional Children's Week program at Sixes Elementary in Cherokee County. The program consisted of activities throughout the week, on topics like how to understand differences and be accepting of them, as well as how to be a good friend.
And what ended up coming from that is that the kids in our from our school really did end up being kind of the most welcoming of kids when they would go on to middle school. Even though it was a different program from social-emotional learning, it still encompassed those kinds of principles and having meaningful conversations with kids.
Stephanie began the program in 2005, because her son Andy, who has Down syndrome, started in a general education kindergarten classroom. And while most students with Andy's learning profiles are segregated in special education classrooms, for the majority of their day, Stephanie knew that if a school district isn't set up to include a student, they would need extra training or support to foster inclusion in a school or a classroom. In Stephanie's view, social-emotional learning and inclusion initiatives are just the kinds of things that could help kids like her son, Andy.
I noticed after even that first conversation with his class, that he started getting invited over for playdates, and it changed the understanding of the kids. And I would even go in and have conversations about how to communicate in sign language, because at that time, that was his primary mode of communication. And unless you have those intentional conversations with kids, and introduce that to them, then they don't know how to how to initiate conversations even with him, because they had to learn some of those basic signs
After the letter was published, she was surprised by the reaction of one of the school board candidates.
I was pretty shocked when what one of the candidates did was posted the article and said “FAKE NEWS” which and they're saying it's all opinion. Well, of course, it's opinion. I'm a mom, I'm sharing from my perspective. And I don't know how our perspective can be fake news.
But the surprises didn't end there.
I was also surprised that when I followed up, and I asked questions, I said, Okay, if you if I do want to know what your platform is about disabilities, can you tell me and I was shocked that our questions were deleted and mine was deleted. And then there are at least five of us total I know of who have kids with disabilities where our questions were deleted.
It took a few days, but the candidate got back to her.
I think I posted the question on May 4, and then I posted it again, like nine days later, I think, and then the candidate did respond. But the response was basically the school board member doesn't have any authority over these questions that you've asked and the questions I asked her about the inclusion of students with disabilities, employment transition programs, and anti-bullying programs. And those are absolutely all things that school district members can make decisions about.
What is your takeaway from this whole experience? Like? Is there anything that you would have done differently or anything that you've learned?
I'm really glad, actually, that the candidates demonstrated their true colors as much as I would have. I would appreciate having all candidates who care about disabilities. If they don't, I want it to be understood. We have the right to be asking these candidates questions about their platforms, and how they affect our kids. And I think too often, you know, we're trying to pick up the pieces afterwards. But we don't get to really find out where they stand beforehand. Ultimately, the candidate who was deleting our posts did get a degree of backlash. And so he did answer the question, finally. And it helped me to discern he doesn't know a whole lot about special education. And so I think that if we ask these questions, and we can get candidates to really reveal what they think and what they know, it helps us to make more informed decisions as voters who are parents of kids with disabilities.
I think for all of us who care about inclusive education in public schools, we should ask specific questions to our school board candidates. For instance, how will you support the full and authentic inclusion of students with significant support needs in general education? Or, even considering running for school board ourselves.
Wait, nope. I love my job.
For more information about your local school board elections, go to your state election website. Thanks for your time and attention, and for subscribing. Have a great weekend.
The Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education (MCIE), the producer of The Think Inclusive Podcast, is starting a new audio documentary project which will feature on-site interviews with change-makers from inclusive schools around the United States and families of children with complex support and communication needs on their journey to inclusion. Tim Villegas, the Director of Communications for MCIE, is conducting preliminary interviews with inclusive school districts to be featured in the project, produced in a narrative/storytelling format. This project is slated for release near the end of 2023.
If you want a first look/listen of the project, we are holding a joint fundraiser with Dan and Samuel Habib on Thursday, May 26, at 3:00 p.m. ET. Dan and Samuel will be screening their current project, My Disability Roadmap, on Zoom with a Q&A session to follow. We will also have more information about our audio documentary project.