Thank you again for your time with us on Friday. I appreciate your willingness to speak with us, and the considerable effort you’ve made to explain your position, to observe Maybelle in an educational setting, and to respond to my concerns.
After we left on Friday, I had some thoughts and realizations that I wished I’d shared with you during our meeting. I want to tell them to you now.
It troubles me that [this school] didn’t let my daughter start [the school] this fall. We were and are so excited about this school, but at this point I’m feeling as though Maybelle isn’t seen as fully human. When [two teachers] and their team visited Maybelle’s school (ECDC), I wrongly assumed that they were using this visit to learn more about who Maybelle is, and how they can best bring her into [the school]. I thought this was a visit saying, “We’re on board! Now what are the suggestions?”
I was wrong, and that fact became clear when you explained to me that Maybelle wouldn’t be allowed to be a student at [your school]. The same thing happened at our next meeting: you were kind, but you rejected a role for her at [your school]. In particular, I was struck by the sense that Maybelle wasn’t seen as “normal” enough. By being rejected from this setting, this school is telling Maybelle that she’s too much work—not valuable enough to be worth the work. (To be clear, you and your colleagues have been kind throughout these conversations. I’m not suggesting that any of you are offering any sort of hostility.)
Your refusal to have Maybelle in your class contradicted your (beautiful!) mission: Maybelle isn’t going to be included in [your school's] “socially diverse student body in a nurturing family environment.” Teachers in this school are said to offer a number of crucial gifts: “Teachers challenge the students to discover their own unique gifts through creative inquiry and critical thinking …. Our small, loving environment enables students to learn self discipline through responsible decision-making and to develop a sense of compassion for others.” Maybelle and her fellow students could work on these components of the [the school's] Mission Statement—work together, which is best for all the students (as research has said repeatedly). But, instead, she’s left out. What are Maybelle’s unique gifts? How would she and her classmates work together to learn self-discipline and a sense of compassion? I think it’s possible for us to work together to see how best to discover and support Maybelle’s gifts.
I’m not a Christian. However, in the world around me—Catholic, Jewish, and undetermined—Maybelle has been welcomed and embraced. She’s gone to non-religious preschool, K4, and K5 in Charleston—all of them welcoming, willing to learn what this will mean for all of them. She may be welcome to Nativity School, and I believe she would be welcomed to Addlestone, too. There are also particular public schools that provide inclusive, challenging settings, so that Maybelle and children like her will be in the same classroom virtually all day (I’ll have to work with the staff sometimes to support this work, but I’m happy to do that).
Schools and other organizations are (or have been) eager to work with Maybelle. These weren’t organizations that had employees with expertise in intellectual disability. Instead, these are individuals and organizations whose leaders and members are willing and curious. They didn’t and don’t have to be experts to change what they would do, and most of them hadn’t worked with a child with Down syndrome. But we’ve all been trying, working together, and we’ve had great successes. These are organizations committed to their missions.
With respect, I think this is the moment that [your school] should consider what it means to live a mission. What does it mean when other organizations are ready to embrace my daughter, but your school has sent her away? This isn’t simply an issue of your organization being too busy, or your classes already having too many children with autism. You told us about the two children with autism, but you didn’t explain to us why that’s a reason Maybelle can’t come there. This is a school that seems frightened of working with a child who is exactly like Maybelle.
My concern is that by saying no to Maybelle, you are saying no to many other children with intellectual disabilities, and to their families. My fear is that you’ll only accept difference if it’s essentially like what you have now. And I hope that you recognize what a big deal this is, how sad it makes me. [Your school] was my top choice for Maybelle’s school. I hadn’t talked to other schools because I was sure [your school] would happily let Maybelle be part of your community. I was wrong.
Your words and your deeds in your interactions with me, no matter how respectful, strike me as incompatible with what I expected from a 21st century parochial school, or of any thoughtful expression of Christianity. From my own, non-Catholic point of view, [this school] shouldn’t have to rely on other Catholic schools to compensate for Maybelle’s differences.
Politically, I don’t have much common ground with Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. In 2012, though, he spoke movingly of “the truth that every child with special needs has a value that matters eternally” and said that “the real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear.” Talking about kids with Down syndrome, he said, “each one of these persons is an icon of God’s face and a vessel of his love. How we treat these persons—whether we revere them and welcome them, or throw them away in distaste—shows what we really believe about human dignity.”
In my own life, Maybelle has been, as the Archbishop explained, “an invitation to learn how to love deeply and without counting the cost.” I hope in the future—soon!—that [this school] will accept this same invitation.
I very much hope you’ll rethink how you reacted to me, to Maybelle, and to other kids in the world who deserve inclusion, recognition, academic challenges, and love.