Right here in River City

Two weeks ago, former students at a Roman Catholic school for the deaf filed a lawsuit alleging they were beaten, tormented and raped decades ago by the people who ran the school, who were nuns. This story jumped out at me on a day when the prisoner abuse story progressed, and the television was dominated by the story of an American who was beheaded by al-Qaeda terrorists.

Disabled students are more vulnerable, and some of the deaf victims tried to speak out during the atrocities, but no one would listen. Atrocities like this awoke the disturbing memories of incidents that occurred in our own infamous District 205 back in the days of Rockford’s grade school for the disabled—Freeman.

I mentioned the situation before in an article about my old friend, Joe Roling, who passed away last August. I put enough in the article to raise questions about Rockford’s school system in past days. The only response I got from anyone with some clout was a letter from County Clerk Dave Johnson. Dave thanked me for the tribute to Joe. Dave thought Joe was a tremendous person dedicated to the disability rights movement. But Dave used the letter to take a hit at me; he assumed I was not a participant in the birth and beginning surge of Rockford’s disability rights movement. Well, Dave, I was there; where were you? I was president of Rockford’s first chapter of the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois. Rockford was the initial chapter in the eventual statewide coalition.

Freeman grade school will haunt many students for years. Far too many alumni are already in the afterlife, but it’s not too late for others to speak out.

District 205 has no doubt vastly improved its educating of disabled students. However, a news story on WIFR-TV caught my attention just weeks ago. A kindergarten student was to be transferred to another school because she and her wheelchair could not make it upstairs for first grade classes next year. It struck a nerve with me because 40-some years ago, I couldn’t go to that same Jackson Elementary School for the same reason. Actually, I got around on crutches and braces and could negotiate stairs with help, but that didn’t matter to them.

I went to Jackson School last week to speak to the principal on the matter. There is no real remedy for Jackson School’s access situation, I learned. Cassandra Coleman will be mainstreamed at another good grade school. Her future looks better than mine did at that stage. Segregation would embrace my grade school education.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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