Hillsborough County School District: Allow Henry to go to Wilson Middle School 200 yards from his home.
I have the same rights as other students. I want to go to school in my neighborhood, in my community. I believe that this is the law. Henry is a 13 year old Autistic self-advocate who communicates using augmented and alternative communication.He is strong and resilient; he has had over 20 surgeries. So why should one of the biggest challenges he faces come from the very people that should be here to educate him? He wants an education from his neighborhood school, but the Hillsborough County School District (HCSD), which is the 8th largest school district in the nation, refuses to let him attend the school only 200 yards away from his home. Despite his parents’ request (and offer to pay for an aide and forgo school-based therapy) and based upon disputed content of an IEP, HCSD has unilaterally predetermined that he should be placed in a segregated classroom in a different neighborhood and not receive the same education as his peers. Henry was subjected to brazen intimidation at a recent IEP meeting in which the HCSD had 18 representatives (9 more than was stated on the Prior Written Notice), including the head of the Exceptional Student Services of HCSD, the Area 1 Supervisor of HCSD, and the principal of the school. During the IEP meeting, which was the very first time he had entered the school that he can see from his bedroom window—the school that his neighbors attend, Wilson Middle School—not one person gave him more than a cursory “hi” and “goodbye.” Not one person from Wilson or HCDS said, “Hey Henry, I hope this can work out. You seem like a great kid; any school would be lucky to have you”. Not one. HCSD has demanded that Henry demonstrate that he can manage the stairs and transition between classrooms in the same school that they have denied him access in the first place. They have demanded that he take tests before he is granted access to the school that no other child needs to take. They have said that he can join his peers in their classroom if he can “prove” that he should be there. No child’s access to a public education should be based on a test. No child should be required to prove their intelligence and competence every single day, but this is a reality for most non-speaking individuals, and it certainly is for Henry. We support Henry’s right to be included with proper supports in his neighborhood school, Wilson Middle School. It is within in the school district’s power to allow him to attend Wilson. There are many laws in place protecting such rights. Yet school districts use their taxpayer-funded resources to fight against the civil rights of the students that they are funded to educate. It is not acceptable to use such resources to skirt laws, abuse procedural delays, and intimidate and frustrate anyone who tries to assert their rights under the laws that protect them. The right to be included and educated in one’s community and society is a civil right protected by federal laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it must not be denied by the Hillsborough County School District to any individual regardless of their perceived abilities and or disabilities. Henry should be presumed competent and should have equal access to education in his own community. Please stand with Henry and support his civil right to attend his neighborhood school, Wilson Middle School, with the supports that he and his school community need to achieve successful outcomes.