You have selected a Catholic education for your child. When your child needs a few accommodations, you are told that the school does not have the staff or other resources to deliver accommodations, and they are not legally required to provide accommodations and services, so you will have to go without or find another school. Can this be true?
The answer is, "yes and no."
If we are talking about services that are provided under the federal IDEA laws that ensure "free appropriate public education" to all students, then yes, because the Catholic School is not a public school, they are not required to provide services. This law, and the IEP plans that are written to define a student's services, are only required of schools that are publicly funded.
Furthermore, if we are talking about accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is a religious institution exemption. This means that the legal system cannot be used to require the Catholic school to provide accommodations.
Jesus Says to Invite the Lame.
When his disciples tried to keep children away from Jesus, " Jesus said, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 19:14.) The Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities is clear that “to be loyal to its calling, to be truly pastoral, the parish must make sure that it does not exclude any Catholic who wishes to take part in its activities.” Specifically regarding education, the U.S. Catholic Bishops states that there is ”the right to equal opportunity in [Catholic] education.” Jesus instructs us "when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” Matthew 14:12-14. The feast of a Catholic education must fully include people with disabilities.
Jesus Demands the Talents of The Lame.
Students with disabilities do have God-given talents. Service to people with disabilities is "paid back" by service by the people with disabilities. In other words, people with disabilities also have talents, and "they have the same duty as all members of the community to do the Lord's work in the world, according to their God-given talents and capacity" (The Pastoral Statement). These talents should not be hidden in the ground, but should be worked and developed so that Jesus will say (to the students and the teachers), "'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’" (Matthew 14-30).
Parents Must Know Our Steadfast Love.
"No family is ever really prepared for the birth of a child with a disability. When such a child does come into the world, families often need strong support from their faith community. That support must remain firm with the passage of years. The path to independence can be difficult. Family members need to know that others stand with them, at least in spirit, as they help their children along this path” (The Pastoral Statement #15). Supporting these families demands our Catholic schools faithfully teach their children.
Jesus Says to Love One Another.
Jesus tells us to love one another. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The apostle Paul teaches us " Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Corinithians 13). Love demands that we serve all our children who seek a Catholic education.
Martha Montes DiVittorio
2/13/2015 11:42:56 pm
What a thoughtful and beautifully written piece. As you might know, Catholics are not nearly as well versed in scripture as other Christians, but the faith-based arguments supporting your position are sound. I often wondered at the sad fact that because my oldest had special needs, I was unable to give him the gift of an elementary or secondary education in a Catholic institution where he would be taught academics AND his the principles of his faith. This made raising him to be a "fully-fledged" Catholic even harder as it placed the entire burden on us, his parents. I hope your post is read widely.
2/16/2015 06:41:35 am
This is really well written and has some very valid points. I have a daughter with a genetic disability that causes her to suffer chronic pain on a daily basis as well as other problems with some of her organ functions including chronic abdominal pain. I have had a hard time with the Catholic schools in our area to faithfully accept her accommodations in an unwavering manner. I feel as a mother and a Catholic that it is extremely important, for her well being, to have a Catholic education and be surrounded be her peers with the same faith in order to find strength through her faith to accept and deal with the way God made her despite her sufferings at such a young age of nine years old. She is very bright and looks deceptively normal. She already struggles with why she was made to have to endure such misery and it complicates things for her when she is not believed when she says she is in pain. I know as a faithful adult that God must have a special plan for her since He does not make mistakes, but I need her surrounded as much as possible at this young age by her faith and people in her faith to help her grow to the point of acceptance and understanding that "God's Will Be Done." We have not asked for anything extreme in accommodating her chronic illness. We just need unwavering understanding, love, and support. It is the Catholic educators' opportunity to truly live Jesus' teachings and to make an example for the children they are teaching to live the Word of God right in front of them and on a daily basis.
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Mari Franklin is a counselor at law who specializes in helping students secure accommodations at school.