Thursday, May 25, 2017
One of the greatest privileges of serving on the Board of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability is learning from my talented and committed fellow board members. Two of them (Michael J. Boyle, Director, Andrew M. Greeley Center for Catholic Education, School of Education, Loyola University Chicago, and Pamela R. Bernards, Director for Professional Development, National Catholic Educational Association) have just published a fantastic white paper entitled One Spirit, One Body: An Agenda for Serving Students with Disabilities in Catholic Schools, available here.
Some interesting findings:
Despite the fact that private schools are not required to legally comply with the least restrictive environment mandates of the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), there is evidence to show that Catholic schools are responding to the Church’s challenge to serve students with disabilities.
The principle findings of the USCCB (2002) study, Catholic School Children with Disabilities, found that nationally, 7 percent of children enrolled in Catholic schools are children with disabilities, compared to 11.4 percent enrolled in public schools. When comparing disability types, Catholic schools enroll a greater percentage of children diagnosed with hearing impairment or deafness, developmental delay, speech/language, uncorrected vision impairment or blindness, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments than public schools (USCCB, 2002: p. 11). Huppe (2010) notes that other disability categories such as mental retardation, autism, and emotional disorders have a “significantly lower representation in Catholic schools than in public schools.”
Boyle and Bernards offer great suggestions for dealing with some of the challenges of including students with disabilities in Catholic schools. They acknowledge the tension felt by many Catholic schools between wanting to serve students with disabilities and the financial burdens of doing so, but remind us that:
. . .the United States Catholic Bishops have stated:
Costs must never be the controlling consideration limiting the welcome offered to those among us with disabilities, since provision of access to religious functions is a pastoral duty (USCCB, 1998, p.2).
“The focus on the inequities in funding between public and private schools often provides an opportunity to justify the inability to provide services for children with special needs” (Moreau, Weaver, R. Davis, S. Landers M. 2006). However, the failure to serve students with disabilities in Catholic schools may actually be “due to an underlying belief on the part of many Catholic educators that children with special needs would be better served elsewhere” (Moreau et al., 2006). In many instances, it has been an assumption that the responsibility for the education of students with disabilities lies in the public school domain, whereas Catholic education encompasses so much more than just academic preparation. Catholic education offers spiritual formation, a faith community and a sense of belonging to the larger church which cannot be replicated within the public school setting. Certainly, the Bishops have noted the value in the interaction between those individuals with disabilities and those without. In such an interchange, “it is often the person with a disability who gives the gift of most value” (USCCB, 1998). Educating individuals with disabilities within the Catholic school setting helps those without disabilities to see the real world reflected in their school, creates a sense of normalization that disability is a part of life and helps to minimize the stigma of disability.