This article is about the family behind that viral inclusion case -the mom has been taking on her Arizona school district for two years.
I remember seeing her right away, she was wearing all black and had a cross look on her face. Sarah was one of the two-dozen people sitting at the many long conference room tables at our first Partners in Policymaking course. We all probably looked a bit unsure, a bit skeptical. The course is a huge commitment—one weekend a month, for six months, a hotel stay required and homework in between.
Then, we told our stories. We were all connected by a word, a word most of us never thought would be apart of our stories—disability. Sarah’s story was the most pressing. She and her husband were in due process with their son Ryken’s school. Ryken has Down syndrome.
Despite the progress Ryken was making in the general education classroom, the district wanted to bus him to a different school, away from his sister and friends to be put in a self-contained classroom. They still do, two years later.
Sarah cried her first day at Partners. She called her husband telling him she didn’t want to be there. She had to be overwhelmed by it all. But she stayed. She stayed for her son.
In the middle of the course, Sarah and her husband Mike endured a week long trial. Where day in and day out, she was reminded how her son was unwanted because of his disability. They lost the case. She still came back to Partners. It wasn’t the end.
Sarah and Mike could have moved. They could have left the district behind and started anew. But instead, they have taken the case to the top—the Ninth District Federal Appeals Court. The justices must now decide if the school district made a change in placement and threatened Ryken’s access to a Free and Appropriate Education in the Least Restrictive Environment, or if it was only a location change, as the school district is arguing.
Sarah and Mike are putting themselves through this for not only Ryken, but for my son, maybe for your child, too.
I know Sarah, now. She’s quick with a laugh and with a tear. She has a bit of a country drawl and views herself as an average mom. She is all of us. She is an unlikely hero.
Who would have thought the mom who cried her first day of taking a disability course, would be the one taking on the prejudice many of our kids with disabilities face?
I know she didn’t. She may not have the vast knowledge of her attorneys or the typical swagger of someone you think of as a trailblazer, but when injustice came knocking on her door, she answered. She could have hid, pretended she wasn’t home, but instead she opened the door and decided to face the immense beast in front of her.
Most of us feel inadequate to do big things, but there’s a hero inside us all. We just have to be willing to respond to the call.
Here’s one of the original news stories about Ryken’s case. Read Inclusion Evolution’s summary on where the case stands now. Follow Sarah’s attorneys Amy Langermen and Susan Marks on Facebook here and here.