Guest blog by Sheila Cargile of Clinton, Mississippi
If you knew your local public school had no intention of meeting the needs of your child, what would you do? When I had this realization, I decided to advocate for change. Not just at the local level, but state-wide change.
I am a Mississippi mother of two students with special needs. My daughters – Emily, age nine, and Audrey, age six – both wear hearing aids because of hearing loss.
Because my girls were both diagnosed so early, we were able to start early interventions at Magnolia Speech School. This wonderful school was designed to enable children with communication disorders to develop their full potential. We did everything the school and teachers told us to do. And both girls excelled.
But when my oldest daughter entered kindergarten at our local public school, our experience was completely different. Emily was about a year ahead academically when she entered kindergarten. By first grade, we were seeing serious problems.
Emily was growing extremely frustrated. She was excited to learn and hear at school, but couldn’t. We knew what the problem was, but because Emily wasn’t a failing student, everyone at the school thought she was fine.
Our daughter is a capable learner, but because of her disability, she needs proper instruction to learn with her hearing aid. The school offered the curriculum Emily needed, but the district did not have any training or staff trained to know how to give Emily proper access to the curriculum. It took over a year to get the proper equipment, but the district never provided the training for the staff to be able to monitor the use of the equipment.
This school was not focused on Emily or what was best for her. Sadly, many students across the state are facing similar experiences. This is why Mississippi families desperately need lawmakers to stand up for students with special needs.
Last year, Mississippi lawmakers nearly passed a bill that would have improved the futures of students like Emily and Audrey.
This legislation would have created scholarships to allow parents of students with disabilities to use some of the state education dollars designated for their child on things like private school tuition, therapy, tutoring, and textbooks. Rather than sending those education dollars and their child to the local public school, moms and dads of kids with disabilities would have been able to use their scholarships to create a custom-made education plan for their son or daughter. They would have been able to pay for the specific services and programs that work for their unique child.
In 2014, that legislation failed by just a few votes on the final day of legislative session, and so many of Mississippi’s children are still waiting for their fair chance at educational opportunities.
In 2015, we cannot waste any more time; we cannot afford to wait around for schools to fix this problem on their own. The futures of our children – of my daughters – are too precious to waste.
Sheila Cargile and her family live in Clinton, Mississippi. Her two daughters Emily (9) and Audrey (6) both wear hearing aids for moderate to severe hearing impairments.