Public Education Is No Place For Equality

Yes, you read that right. A public schoolteacher is proclaiming in writing for the world to see that public schools are no place for equal treatment of students… how do I keep my job with such a radical perspective, you may be asking? Well, dear reader, read on and I shall explain.

Since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, abolitionists and human rights activists have worked toward the acceptance and appreciation of diverse peoples including those of differing races, genders, cultures, and ideals. However, Federal law, specifically Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requires all programs and activities receiving Federal to funds provide equal access to those programs to all citizens, including those with disabilities. This act also specifies that all students are entitled to a “free and appropriate public education,” affectionately know to educators as FAPE, regardless of disability. Furthermore, in concert with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) or IDEA, requires that school districts provide the necessary supports to enable a student to overcome the barriers that inhibit access to his or her education. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where equal access requires unequal treatment… Confused yet? Stick with me….

Under IDEA, a team comprised of teachers, administrators, school consultants and service providers, parents, and, ideally, the student convene to determine the barriers and supports needed and develop what is called the Individual Education Plan, or IEP. This plan serves to inform the student’s teachers as to what services, accommodations, and supports must be provided in the classroom. This entire process necessarily requires that educators acknowledge the specific needs of the student based on his or her disability and then provide for those individual needs even if they are not “fair” or “equitable” to other students.

To sum up, if educators treat all students truly equally, we are violating federal law. More importantly, if we approach teaching in a one-size-fits-all manner, we are also failing to teach some of our students, so the thrust for equality becomes iniquity. Ok, now we’re getting into some silly semantics but you get the idea… er… IDEA!

Jen Winchester

About Jen Winchester

I an a lifelong Mainer with a passion for helping animals and kids to be treated with love and respect. I am a married mother of four living in Winterport, Maine. My husband, Jess, and I owned and operated a horse rescue for years and now have switched our farm focus to humanely raising farm animals for food. I am also a special education teacher working primarily with behaviorally and emotionally challenged high school students in the public school system. My educational background includes a B.A. in Social Sciences and a B.S. in Administration of Justice. I am currently 3 courses away from a M.Ed in a program specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorders and seek to pursue a PhD in Education once I have accomplished my Masters degree.