Activist state

Social Studies Saga, Sequel: Advocates Urge State to Include Disability Rights Movement in Standards

Advocates are urging the Mississippi Department of Education to include the disability rights movement in state social studies standards.

Late last year, MDE officials were accused of removing civil rights content from the standards, which then became the focal point of many frustrations with social studies education.

The revised social studies standards were first presented to the State Board of Education in December 2021. The proposed changes removed many specific names, events, and details instead of more general descriptions. During the first public hearing in January 2022, national education officials returned to this change to the satisfaction of several groups present. Still, other people have expressed concern that officials are adding critical race theory to the standards. MDE officials have repeatedly stated that theory is not taught in K-12 grades.

The the latest version of the social studies standards was made available for public comment in September.

At Friday’s hearing, seven of the eight speakers argued for the inclusion of the disability rights movement in history and minority studies classes in the United States, as well as broader education on people with disabilities in the early years.

Davonda Ferrell, whose seven-year-old daughter has Down’s syndrome, said being left out of the disability rights movement sends the message to her daughter that she doesn’t matter.

“It’s normal that when students start school, they learn about all the diverse groups that are within our school and our community,” Ferrell said. “Starting early and often is vitally important to promote inclusion for all students.”

Scott Crawford of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities said one in three Mississippians have a disability, but few know how the struggle to be included benefits them today. Crawford mentioned sit-ins led by Judy Heumann, transportation boycotts in Denver, and the “Capitol Touras prominent examples of activism that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It didn’t happen by accident,” Crawford said. “People are putting their bodies at risk.”

Other activists said representing the disability rights movement shows children with disabilities that it is possible for them to lead productive lives.

“All civil rights movements are important, and all should be included in the program,” said Christy Dunaway, a disability rights activist.

MDE spokesperson Jean Cook said they plan to present the final version of the standards to the State Board of Education at its December 15 meeting, where any changes in response to such feedback will be noted.

— Article credit to Julia James of mississippi today