Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Ivy Ceiling

What happens after high school?

That's one of many questions that many of us that have kids with disabilities think of. Will our kids be able to go to college, get a job, live independently? Will they be happy?

Two young people with disabilities enrolled in Florissant Valley Community College in the St. Louis, Missouri, USA area. They had hopes, dreams, and scholarships they had earned during high school. What happened to them is detailed in a story found here.

...It happened to Jennifer Adelsberger two years ago. She attended Florissant Valley for four years and was close to getting her associates degree in early childhood education. She has disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and has difficulty in reading comprehension. But, with help, she graduated from McCluer North High School.

However, at Florissant Valley, Adelsberger couldn't get her degree because her advisor, she says, told her that she would not be able to graduate. She needs four classes to get her degree; a math class, two in student teaching and a fourth in class training with children.

After she was told she wouldn't be able to pass those classes, she left school and has been looking for work since. Her father, Larry, says she's had her heart set on being a teaching assistant, working with young children, and what happened at Florissant Valley has affected her outlook and personality. ...

It would appear that the math class is the stumbling block. I find it hard to believe that the school can't identify a tutor that could help her to get thru that one class. I'm sure it couldn't possibly be that this young woman looks and talks a little different from the norm, and they didn't want her student teaching. Surely there is no other discrimination involved. This is born out by looking at the other case, in which things seemed to start out just fine:

...For Jeremy Andert, the fall at Florissant Valley was much quicker. He too had an A+ scholarship and he graduated from Hazelwood West High School in the spring of 2006. In the Fall, he began at Florissant Valley, taking just a remedial reading class and physical education. It was to be an easy transition from high school to the rigors of college.

He was doing well in reading and physical education. In fact, his teacher had written him a mid-term report, indicating he was passing the class and was succeeding in school. ...

It sounds like Jeremy was approaching things in a realistic manner, and things were going well. His mom thought he was doing well, too (who wouldn't, having been given the satisfactory mid-term report).

...However his mother, Cathy Andert, had a meeting with a school advisor, who told a different story. Cathy says the advisor told her that she didn't care to have "retarded" students in her classes and she wasn't "having" it. Cathy says she was taken aback by those comments. ...

I think I would have been more than "taken aback" by those comments. Ms. Andert was much kinder than I would have been. The school, for its part, offered this lame response:

...Laura Sternman, a vice president of student affairs at Florissant Valley, says such comments are not the college's "attitude" taken on campus. Sternman says the college does all it can to help disabled students, saying the school is "very proactive" when it comes to such help. ...

Actions speak louder than words, and Florissant Valley's actions speak volumes. And so does its web site, where you can follow a link from this page called “You Should Know the Difference Between High School and College for Students With Disabilities.”

There are things written there, such as

A college education is a privilege instead of a right and special programs are not required

Students are responsible for their own behavior and inappropriate behavior is not tolerated

Students are expected to do the same work in the same time frame as all students

These hardly seem consistent with an institution that says it is doing all it can to assist disabled students.

For those that are not in the US, community colleges are 2 year public institutions that offer lesser than bachelor degrees, usually "Associate of Arts" degrees. Students can pursue various courses of study there, or use it as a stepping stone to a four year institution. As can be gleaned from the above, education at the college level is not governed by the same sets of rules that apply to education up to that point.

Various people on the web have commented regarding how some colleges in some instances are providing accomodations for students with special needs. But it appears that their legal responsibility is only to supply equal access (things like physical access, access for guide dogs, etc.), and there is no requirement for them to accommodate developmental or behavioral disabilities.

While some colleges seem to have greater outreach than others, it appears that at least some people at Florissant Valley Community College feel so emboldened that they can say that they don't want to have to deal with 'retarded' students in their classes.

If you wish to express your opinion to Laura Sterman personally, here is her contact information:

Laura Sterman
Vice President of Student Affairs
St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley Campus
3400 Pershall Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63135


You also might want to copy your note to the president of Florissant Valley, Ms. Marcia Pfeiffer:

I could not find a public listing of the e-mail of Henry Shannon, Ph.D., the chancellor of all of the St. Louis Community Colleges, but if it follows their convention, it should be


VAB said...

I don't see how a service provided by the state with taxpayer funding can be deemed a privilege. Everyone should have equal access to state funded services.

Daisy said...

So...they don't believe in reasonable accomodation? I wonder how they would react if a disabled person applied to teach there. (says the hearing impaired public school teacher)

andrea said...

The kinds of accommodations and support that various colleges & universities give vary a great deal.

So do the assorted professors! Some are wonderfully about working with students, whereas others seem to have their mental constructs about teaching and learning back in the mid-20th century.

I hate it when people see accommodations as being something extra special, and like they're doing you a great big favour by giving you barely adequate or less than full access to the materials, et cetera.

High school and college are very different in many ways! All students who undertake higher education need to learn how to operate (as learners) in that different environment.

Joeymom said...

I teach college classes. Providing access to the course for disabled students is just.. well, what we do. The point is to teach the students. Often, accomodations needed by students are simply good teaching methods. Testing accomodations are usually creating a take-home format or a format that can be done in the "testing center", much like a make-up exam would be. It's just not that hard, people. What the hell is the problem with this school?

kristina said...

Talk about a lame response of administration-speak to look like we're doing something but just filling up the time----I dont understand Jeremy's case in particular. Lots of students (where I teach, at any rate) take remedial classes and you teach them through it. How can anyone in an educational setting say "retarded" in this day and age?

Casdok said...

It is a difficult time for child and parent.

Patrick said...

Highly disturbing.

I would think the discriminatory remark should be actionable, either at the facility administration level, or by suit. Though I expect these kids couldn't afford to file suit.

The emotional damage to the one young girl might also be actionable, and might have been avoided by using more tact in delivery.

Steve D said...

Part of me agrees with an element of what the college's position is on this. I like the idea that, once a person reaches adulthood, success is dependent upon their own actions.
A much larger part of me feels that this particular insitution, through their actions and words, have a very poor attitude toward special needs students, and view them as a burden as opposed to a population deserving of an equal crack at higher education. The attitude in their document comes across as "We don't think you can do it, but if you think you can then consider these factors first, and don;t come cryin' to us if you fail."
Also, where they say "Students are responsible for their own behavior and inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated", how are they defining inappropriate behavior?

Club 166 said...

Thanks for your replies, everyone.

I guess I'm with Joeymom on this. I don't think that the accommodations that I envision are that big a deal. Quiet places for testing. Perhaps some extra time for an exam for those who have a diagnosis of ADHD (I find that most good tests aren't really time based for most subjects. And just some human understanding for things like processing disorders, and a willingness to present information in different ways.

And while I totally get that sooner or later, a person is an adult, I don't think that I will be considering my 18 year old kids going to college as full fledged adults, no matter how 'adult' they think they are.

Finally, I think that community colleges are a precious public resource. They have been the place that others in society have utilized when they couldn't get into traditional four year institutions, or who themselves could not accommodate a four year institution. And as publicly funded institutions I think that they have a special responsibility to accommodate as many people in society as they can, and to assist them in developing to their full potential. Not by doing things that would cost $100K/student to accomplish, but by doing 100 things that are low to no cost, and by changing antiquated attitudes.


bigwhitehat said...

I don't get it. It is a community college. The students should be allowed to pass of fail on their own merits. They are essentially being told that they are not accepted for attendance after they have already been attending.

I think the school should completely reimburse them for all of their books, tuition and fees then also pay damages. That will hack off the taxpayers enough to change their attitude.

Back home I have a buddy named Carl. Carl suffered some brain damage that left him severely disabled. He graduated from UTPB after 14 years of attendance.

Bare Bones Gardener said...

Is there a way for students involved in the Care or Teaching strands there, might be able to assist in putting together study assists for students like our kids?

Camille said...

The description UC Davis had of what it would do and not do for disabled students felt "hostile" to me when I read it when I was first accepted there (as a transfer student) it sounded a lot like the "sink or swim" and don't you dare try to get away with that "but I'm different stuff here!" tone the Florrissant Valley's website. As it turned out the student disability people actually WERE quite hostile to autistic students, but less so to other disabled students. They seemed to do OK by blind students and with people who needed wheelchairs, etc. But really, they were amazingly hostile at the idea that autistic people might need something special, too, to help them to have access to something like an even playing field.

I had one accomodation I asked for and was prescribed officially... I never received it, not once, and I was treated like some kind of begger or whiner for even asking for it... a quiet place alone to take exams... NOT extra time, just quiet.

At UC Berkeley they have a testing center just for such a thing. UC Davis had nothing of the sort, and as I said, they were hostile to the idea that someone might have to arrange for an empty (small) classroom somewhere (and some kind of supervision, for instance, to make sure the student wasn't using a cell phone in the room while taking the exam (if alone). Even that wouldn't be necessary if they had a testing center.

Anonymous said...

i'm jennifer's ex fiancee and she was an awesome girl and a great g/f for a long time without letting our problems drive us away from each other but it did down the road and we'll broke up so if me and her can stay together all that time then maybe the college might give her a 2nd chance and jennifer i miss you and i will always love you.

cialis said...

I, of course, a newcomer to this blog, but the author does not agree

Club 166 said...

How do you not agree, Cialis?