Community Demands Eliza’s Education

Community Demands Elizas Education

Eliza Schaaf, a former student of Ashland High School, is a fully capable and incredibly accomplished woman who has Down Syndrome. While in high school, she participated in a variety of classes and activities with enthusiasm. In June of 2010, Eliza graduated with a modified diploma, and quickly began preparing to attend SOU that fall. She would only be taking one class, introduction to ceramics, but she was eager to get a taste of what college is like.

But on November 8, Eliza received a letter from Alissa Arp, Dean of Arts and Sciences at SOU, announcing that Eliza was no longer permitted to attend university. In this letter it was stated that Eliza required “fundamental alterations to the course” which the university could not accommodate. These claims were based on her “limited ability to follow instructions, make transitions, and work independently.” This rejection spurred an outcry throughout Ashland. Many community members, including the Schaafs and Eliza’s classmates, saw no evidence that Eliza was in any way altering the course environment. After the letter, a struggle began for Eliza’s right to go back to school.

The community’s response

To Eliza’s disappointment, the semester passed by without SOU’s agreement to let her attend her remaining classes. This occurred much to the outrage of Eliza’s classmates. Petitions and protests, like the one on November 18, were organized by fellow ceramics student Mollie Mustoe. After obtaining ofver 100 student signatures supporting Eliza’s re-admittance to university, Eliza was asked to speak in the SOU Student Senate. Soon after this speech a vote was held, and unanimous support was given to Eliza and her endeavor. Still, the university refused to re-admit her.

“Eliza’s presence in class if anything, added personality to the class,” Mustoe expressed, “…Eliza is not a disability. In fact, she was more productive and self-challenging than many students. Eliza is a human being. It’s her right to be educated.” However, it is university policy that a disabled student must be able to attend class without altering the curriculum and learning environment. As for the classmates’ persistent appeals, the university refused to make any comments. Mustoe states, “We are not here to attack the administration. We are here to ask the administration to be in support of us.”

For more information on Eliza’s experience, as well as regular updates, visit her blog.