18-year-old Jared DeWeese has received As in algebra, biology and world history but his father, Wes DeWeese, is displeased and has publicly criticized his son’s high school in Georgia. Jared, WSBTV says, has severe disabilities and is unable to walk, talk or read. Why is his father not cheering on his son’s accomplishments?
The reason, DeWeese tells WSBTV, is that Gwinnett High School is simply giving Jared the high grades to boost the school’s overall test scores. “My wife and I were pretty astounded. Glad he’s getting 90s and 100s. But he can’t do any of these. He has the mental capacity of a 6-month-old,” says DeWeese. There is simply no way, he adds, that his son (who was born prematurely) can do algebra.
In response, the Gwinnett County Schools says that it is following state guidelines for students with disabilities. Says county spokesperson Sloan Roach:
Schools have to offer access to regular education courses for students with significant cognitive disabilities. We take those courses you see other students taking and we adapt those courses so students with significant cognitive disabilities can have access to those courses.
Roach also says that grades for special education students like Jared are “based on participation with that curriculum to which they are given access.”
All of this sounds very well, but the “guidelines” Roach cites are actually extremely vague and possibly not in keeping with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under this federal law, school districts are required to provide students with disabilities a “free and appropriate education” (FAPE) in the “least-restricted environment” (LRE).
At issue is how “appropriate” Jared’s education is. Based on DeWeese’s disbelief at his son receiving high grades, it seems that the curriculum in Jared’s classes is not “appropriate” in view of his cognitive ability. Students with disabilities who qualify for special education services must be evaluated and tested to determine what curriculum is “appropriate.” It is not clear how, or who, decided that a student like Jared can take subjects like biology and what exactly he is being taught (i.e., given that he has physical disabilities, he is very likely not using microscopes or laboratory facilities).
Jared, according to WSBTV, is attending his district’s high school. One has also to question if that it an “appropriate” placement for him at all. Gwinnett High School may have simply placed him in a “special education” classroom that includes students with learning disabilities, ADHD and autism — students who may well have more academic and other skills than him. A placement in a school designed for students with disabilities would be more “restricted” in that Jared would no longer be going to school with “typical” peers, but such a specialized school might have a teaching staff and facilities to help with the skills he needs to learn such as communication and self-help skills.
There have been reports of individuals without speech and with severe disabilities like Jared being able to read and communicate by writing, and also to write poetry and even books. My teenage autistic son Charlie has very little speech and does not seem able to read but we always presume competence: it could be that Charlie can read but sees no reason to show us that he can. Certainly Charlie understands much more that is said by others than he can himself say; he immediately picks up expressions of anxiety, anger and emotion. (As a result, we have not said a single word about the Sandy Hook School shooting in front of Charlie.)
The Gwinnett County School District owes the DeWeeses a far better explanation of why Jared has received the grades he did. Rather than just making it easy on themselves and giving him As, school staff need to meet with the DeWeeses to discuss what would be an “appropriate” curriculum for him and then actually teach him what he needs to learn to best live and be in the world.
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