Dear Secretary DeVos,
My name is Malcolm and I just finished third-grade in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system. I have vibrant red-hair and blue eyes like my mom, wear cool glasses, have a wicked follow through on my jump shot, and am quite the dancer. My dad also wears glasses, but he does not dance very well nor has much hair. My sister is in high school. She is very smart and she helps me with my homework.
I also have an extra chromosome because of a condition called Trisomy 21. You may know it as Down Syndrome. It does not define me. It just is, but I do need a little extra help in school and in learning other skills on how to be independent.
I am having my daddy write this letter for me. He is a teacher in a public high school. In fact, I spend a lot of time at his school going to games and functions. A lot of people know me there like they do at my own school. My having an extra chromosome doesn’t seem to scare them so much because in the end we are all more alike than different anyway.
But I am worried about some of the things that have happened in public schools since I have started going. I am also worried about how students like me are being treated since you and President Trump have been in office.
My daddy has noticed you like this thing called “school choice” and that the budget that you and Mr. Trump like puts more money into this. Yet it really seems to have done a lot to weaken public schools like not fully give money to them or give them resources so that all kids in public schools can be successful. It seems that some money went to this thing called “vouchers” and some has been used to help make other types of schools – schools that will not accept me.
When I got ready to go to school a few years ago, one of my grandparents offered to pay tuition at any school that could help me the most, but none around here would take me because I have a certain type of developmental delay. Doesn’t seem like I had much choice.
But the public schools welcomed me with open arms. And I am learning because of the good teachers and the teacher assistants. Imagine what could happen if my school could have every resource to accommodate my needs.
When people in power have taken away resources, teacher assistants and forced local school systems to make due with less money, then all students, especially students like me, are not being helped as much. And it’s not our teachers’ fault. It’s the fault of those who control what we get.
You and Mr. Trump control a lot of what we get.
My family is very aware of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It says that I am entitled by law to a sound and quality public education that will work to overcome my obstacles like any other student. We were surprised that you were not aware of IDEA when you were asked earlier this year. That law is my lifeline. And there are many students who do not have the advantages that I have. Some have more obstacles and more physical hurdles to overcome. They really need for you to step up for them. Part of your job is to protect that law.
But this budget that you seem to like does not really help to strengthen that.
The Individual Education Plan that I have that my school and parents put together is backed by federal law. That means that you are supposed to protect it.
But this budget and your actions do not seem to want to honor that.
I think you should stand up more for students like me. I think you should fight more for public schools. I think that you should be loud about it. Make everyone know your commitment to public school children and their teachers and the staffs at each school as many times as you can.
I can be loud. It’s easy. I let my presence be known all of the time. It’s how others know I am there. But I have to be there.
It seems that if you are the leader of the public schools in the nation, then you would be more of a champion for public schools. You would show up at places when asked to talk about what is going on in schools.
Like accepting invitations to places and conferences.
I know that you were invited to speak at the Office of Special Education Programs Leadership Conference this next week. My daddy says that you have never met with a special-education advocacy group before. Why?
Why have you not accepted the chance to talk to the very people who need to hear you talk? These are the people who help make sure that I have what I need because I depend on the public schools.
In fact, my daddy says that you do not really talk to those who really need you to explain your views on education and why you seem to like some types of schools more than others.
Shouldn’t you be willing to talk?
My daddy goes to work every school day and teaches the students who show up for school. He does not get to choose his students. But that does not matter to him.
I go to school and my teacher did not get to choose what students she got to have. But she teaches me anyway.
If you are the secretary of education for the whole country, then shouldn’t you be willing to go anywhere to talk about school?
Special Normal Public School Kid