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Catholic schools should support all children

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It is easy to read not only the outrage, but the pain in Liz Froehke’s letter on Nov. 17 (Lack of Acceptance an Issue of Ignorance). We share that pain. At the same time, please allow me to respond to Liz’s challenge regarding Catholic schools as a Catholic educator as well as a lifelong advocate of all students with learning and behavioral issues.

The Nov. 17 Observer came to my office just as twenty Catholic school educators from Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland and the District of Columbia were deep in conversation in the next room discussing the knowledge and skills needed by Catholic schoolteachers to ensure that “all Catholic schools are prepared to educate the children of God regardless of special needs in language acquisition, learning, behavior, or social economic status” (ACE position statement on Inclusion, 2008). Are these teachers and educators the exception? Not at all. Catholic schools across the country are accepting children with special needs. In a survey of our ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) teachers just last month, 98 percent reported having children with learning and behavioral issues in their classrooms, including children with Down’s Syndrome and Autism.

It is not enough, however, for Catholic schools to accept children that have learning differences. These schools and teachers need the resources and skills so that the special gifts of persons with disabilities can be celebrated within our classrooms. To that end, ACE has three initiatives under way. First, we are educating Catholic educators, such as those here this week, to become trainers for Catholic dioceses across the country in the strategies needed to help Catholic schoolteachers meet the individual learning needs of the “differently abled.” Many of those being trained are graduates of the ACE program who have remained teaching in Catholic schools and are committed to this vision. Secondly, through our new office of ACE Consulting, we are providing workshops to diocesan superintendents on the opportunities for accessing federal dollars to support the services for children with special needs whose parents choose to place them in our Catholic schools. Lastly, the ACE faculty, just this week, reviewed a proposal for a new ACE certification program in Mild Disabilities for Catholic schoolteachers.

We understand that at present, teachers in Catholic schools are typically unequipped to face the challenges of helping diverse learners reach their God-given potential. These initiatives, therefore, are built upon a core belief that every baptized child has a right to a Catholic education. We seek to provide within our nation’s Catholic schools a more welcoming and inclusive – and indeed effective – learning environment for children with diverse educational abilities. With the help of the Holy Spirit, ACE might contribute in some same way to assist schools in accommodating the richly diverse learning needs of all God’s children.

Joyce Johnstone


  Alliance for Catholic Education

Nov. 19