Special Education

Family of Disabled Student Says District Failed to Prepare Him for College

By Christina A. Samuels — February 02, 2009 1 min read

Here’s an interesting story out of Olathe, Kansas, about a family of an 18-year-old senior filing for due process because their son’s IEP goals didn’t include a goal of “a favorable ACT score that would facilitate his transition to a four-year college.” The student, Dustin Villareal, has a somewhat old website here. (The article says that he has attended Olathe schools since he was three; the website says he is home-schooled. Hmm.)

The district has responded that it cannot guarantee that any student will be able to pass a college-entrance exam. But I think that response misses the point. The story hints at the real issue here:

All of my teachers either felt sorry for me (or felt I could not learn),” [Dustin] wrote in the e-mail. “They modified my curriculum so much that by the fifth grade, I could hardly read or do math. “My parents and I knew I could learn with supports. Since fifth grade, (we) have been trying to close the huge gap between myself and my non-disabled peers. I have made major accomplishments but am still behind.”

If true, that’s the problem -- not the fact that no school can, or should, be required to guarantee a certain ACT score for its students. And it goes right back to my earlier post that referred to Harvard professor Thomas Hehir and his suggestions for how to improve individualized education programs. He says that parents and teachers should think carefully before modifying the curriculum of a student, as opposed to offering accommodations that would allow access to the general curriculum.

Dustin has Apert Syndrome, which has some unique physical characteristics and may, but not always, include some intellectual disabilities as well. In this television news story, his parents suggest that his appearance may have led to unfair treatment.

If Dustin received a modified curriculum because he legitimately has cognitive disabilities, that’s one thing. If, like he suggests, the assumption was that he required a lower level of academic rigor because of the physical features of his disability, that’s another problem entirely. The ACT score seems like a side issue.

Based on the story, it sounds like the district has offered tutoring after earlier due-process hearings. Dustin would like to stay in school at least another year, to catch up with his peers. I’ll be interested in seeing what the hearing officer decides.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.