November 24, 2020

Webster student fights for equal rights of students in elementary schools

MAX BOUVATTE/ The Journal Emily Malabey is hopeful that through her work with the ICAA she can raise social awareness and acceptance for people with autism. Her son, Matthew, (background) has Autism. He will soon be moved to a new school that is more accommodating for students with cognitive disabilities.

After a night of studying, Emily Malabey, junior legal studies and English double major, spent the morning at the office of the International Coalition for Autism and All Abilities (ICAA). She founded the advocacy organization two years ago, inspired by her now fourth grade son Matthewl, who has autism.
When Malabey first started studying at Webster, she wasn’t sure how she would use legal studies in her life. When an issue with her son’s class schedule arose two years ago, Malabey was inspired to use her legal studies to support students with disabilities.
An advocate before she was a parent, Malabey realized there were many organizations focusing on prevention and cures for disabilities, but didn’t see a focus on “practical support, right here, right now, for people of all ages who are on the spectrum,” Malabey said.
Before becoming an advocate, Malabey noticed  that the schedules for disabled students differed from those of non-disabled students. When Malabey’s daughter Erica, who does not have a diagnosed disability, started kindergarten, her start and end time differed from her older brother, Matthew.
“The teacher would say, ‘You’re late, you’re too early, you’re late, you’re too early.’ And I would say, ‘What time exactly is my child supposed to be at school? What time do I need to pick my child up?’” Malabey said.
These questions led Malabey to discover her son and other students with disabilities in the Fox C-6 school district had a different schedule, of which Malabey was previously unaware.
If a student needs a special schedule, it must be discussed and written into the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is developed at an annual meeting by a team comprised of the student’s parents, teacher and principal, assistant principal or counselor. Parents can also choose to allow their child to attend the meeting and provide input. The IEP contains short-term and long-term goals and plans for the student.
Malabey felt students with disabilities did not have access to a full education in the district. ICAA’s website describes the different amount of instructional time for some students with disabilities as “a clear violation of students’ rights and a violation of law.” The ICAA addressed the Fox C-6 school board in May and filed official complaints with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Malabey interprets the lack of response from the community and school district leaders regarding this issue as a sign.
“This discrimination is so embedded into our culture that they’ve either come to accept it as an acceptable practice for people with disabilities or that we’ve been subject to just deal with it,” Malabey said. “That’s all the more reason why we have a lot of work to do.”
Malabey and her husband Matthew, as well as other ICAA board members, fund the organization.
“He (Matthew) is a partner in all of it,” Malabey said. “I’m extremely grateful to have a husband like him.”
She said they haven’t made seeking out funding for ICAA a top priority. She said once they make funding a higher priority, she is confident they will find the capital they need. She continues to support all people with disabilities through her organization.
Malabey addressed the Fox C-6 School Board on behalf of ICAA at their monthly meeting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Roy Wilde Conference Center in Arnold. Julian Bukalski, ICAA vice president, and Jacqueline Ward, ICAA secretary, stood close by for support.
“It’s hard to say what you do except keep trying to raise the issue and not letting it drop,” Bukalski said.
Even though her own son is no longer on a different schedule, Malabey continues to demand the school district change its system. She worries about what lessons her daughter and other children are learning from the current system.
“I don’t like educating all children with or without disabilities that this practice (a possible separate schedule) is acceptable,” Malabey said.

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