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Social studies saga, continued: Advocates urge state to incorporate disability rights movement into standards

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Advocates are calling on the Mississippi Department of Education to include the disability rights movement in the state’s social studies standards.

At the end of last year, MDE officials were accused of removal of civil rights content from standards that then became the focus of many frustrations in the social sciences.

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 in lieu of broader descriptions. During the first public hearing in January 2022, education department officials rejected the change to the satisfaction of several groups present. Still, other people expressed concern that officials were adding critical race theory to the standards. MDE officials have repeatedly stated that the theory is not taught in grades K-12.

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

At Friday’s hearing, seven of the eight speakers spoke in favor of including the disability rights movement in U.S. history and minority studies courses, as well as more education for people with disabilities in the first grades.

Davonda Ferrell, whose seven-year-old daughter has Down syndrome, felt that being excluded from the disability rights movement showed her daughter that she was not important.

“It’s only right that when students first start school, they learn about all the diverse groups that make up our school and community,” Ferrell said. “It is vital to start early and often to promote the inclusion of all students.”

Scott Crawford of the Mississippi Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities said one in three Mississippians has a disability, but few know how the fight for inclusion is benefiting them today. Crawford mentioned the sit-ins led by Judy Hoiman, the Denver transit boycott, and “Capitol Crawl” as important examples of the activism that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It didn’t just happen,” Crawford said. “People put their bodies on the line.”

Other activists said that disability rights representation shows children with disabilities that they can lead productive lives.

“All the civil rights movements matter and they all need to be included in the curriculum,” said Christy Dunaway, a disability rights activist.

Jean Cook, MDE spokeswoman, said they plan to bring the final version of the standards to the State Board of Education’s Dec. 15 meeting, where any changes in response to those comments will be noted.

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