For Students With Disabilities, Quality Of Education Can Depend On ZIP Code

By Rebecca Klein for The Huffington Post

At the start of every school year, Jawanda Mast met with administrators at her daughter Rachel’s school. Every year, it was the same fight. Teachers wanted to separate Rachel ― who has Down syndrome ― from her peers without disabilities, and put her in a segregated class. Mast always pushed back. Isolating her daughter from her peers would have a devastating effect. Rachel was vivacious and social, and loved to be with her friends.

After years of having the same fight over and over, Mast made a hard choice right before Rachel was set to begin third grade. Mast and her family decided to leave their home in Tennessee for Kansas, where they could put Rachel into a school system that offered a better education and would include her in an integrated classroom. The family also made the move due to Mast’s husband’s job, but the education issues in Tennessee were a key factor.

“I was like, how on earth am I going to do this for 10 more years,” Mast said.

As a child with Down syndrome, Rachel is one of the small number of public school students in America with an intellectual disability. These children made up less than 2 percent of public school students in every state during the 2015-2016 school year. Experts estimate that up to 90 percent of students with disabilities can graduate high school meeting the same academic expectations as their peers. But parents and advocates say the other 10 percent are often assumed to be less capable than they are.

Just a few decades ago, students with disabilities faced high rates of institutionalization and were rarely included in typical classroom settings. In 1975, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ― originally called the Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act ― enshrined into law these students’ right to an appropriate public education.

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