The following speech was given by Aaron DeVries on November 14th, 2011.

Superintendent Krenz, Chairperson Keenan, members of the board, my name is Aaron DeVries and I am here tonight as a parent and in my role as Chairman of the district’s Special Education Advisory Council or SEAC.  I am honored to be discussing inclusion; inclusive schools week and our community showing of the highly acclaimed film Including Samuel with you this evening.

The definition of inclusion from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online version is the act or practice of including students with disabilities in regular school classes”. The definition makes it seem so simple and yet for many children with disabilities in 2011 it is not their reality.  In 1975 Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act which is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.  This is the first major legislation to require all school districts to develop and provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) for all children and youth with disabilities.   An important provision of IDEA requires that the education of children with disabilities be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for each child, opening the door for children to be educated in general education classrooms in their neighborhood schools.  Because the law does not specifically state that all children with disabilities should be educated in the general education setting some people in our society are still “ok” with having separate special education classrooms.  At the same time there are others that believe that inclusion is the next civil rights issue and they spend all their time working to make it a reality.  Everyone wants to be included with those around them.  People buy certain clothes so they fit in others. People go to eat at restaurants because that is where the cool people hang out.  People will buy certain vehicles to be included in a group.  Do you remember a time when you weren’t included in an activity whether it was at school or elsewhere?  How did it make you feel?  For some children with disabilities they feel excluded because they are not going to the same classes as their friends.  Other children feel excluded because their brother or sister can’t go to the same school they do because the services to meet their needs are not offered there.  Is this “ok”?  I understand that there are people on both sides of this issue, but to me the golden rule comes to mind “Treat others how you want to be treated.”  The school district has been given the great opportunity by the community to build a new school and it is my hope that it will be designed in a way to make it the most inclusive school in the district.

Inclusive Schools Week is an annual event sponsored by the Inclusive Schools Network (ISN) at Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), which is held each year during the first week in December which this year happens to be December 5th thru the 9th. Since its inception in 2001, Inclusive Schools Week has celebrated the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference and other factors. The Week also provides an important opportunity for educators, students and parents to discuss what else needs to be done in order to ensure that their schools continue to improve their ability to successfully educate all children.  They have a website that contains many resources for schools to use to create awareness and to begin to change how we view inclusion.

This year SEAC is proud to have teamed up with The ARC of Mower County and Community Against Bullying or CAB to host a community screening of the highly acclaimed film Including Samuel.  I was able to watch the film this weekend for the first time and I am excited that we are going to be showing it in the community as the information that is presented makes you think about how we treat individuals of all abilities.  Here is a short synopsis of the film from their website: “Before his son Samuel was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, photojournalist Dan Habib rarely thought about the inclusion of people with disabilities. Now he thinks about inclusion every day. Shot and produced over four years, Habib’s award-winning documentary film, Including Samuel, honestly chronicles the Habib family’s efforts to include Samuel in every facet of their lives. The film also features four other families with varied inclusion experiences, plus interviews with dozens of teachers, young people, parents and disability rights experts.Including Samuel is a highly personal, passionately photographed film that captures the cultural and systemic barriers to inclusion.”  The event is going to be held Tuesday December 6th from 6:30-8:00pm in the large room at the Austin Public Library and refreshments will be served.  If you are free that evening we would love for you to attend.

Inclusion in school and society is something that I and the other members of SEAC want for all children and we hope that by celebrating inclusive schools week and showing the film Including Samuel we have started the conversation in Austin and change will take place.  We also want to thank the school board for proclaiming the week of December 5th thru the 9th Inclusive Schools Week in the Austin Public school district.  Thank you for your time.