Blind World Magazine

Chicago schools require blind kids to pass driver's ed class.

Belleville News Democrat, Illinois.
Friday, March 10, 2006.

By Associated Press.

CHICAGO - Most high school students eagerly await the day they pass driver's education class. But Mayra Ramirez is indifferent about it.

Ramirez is blind, yet she and dozens of other visually impaired sophomores in Chicago's public school system are required to pass a written rules-of-the-road exam in order to graduate - a rule they say takes time away from learning material they might actually use.

"In other classes, you don't really feel different because you can do the work other people do," said Ramirez, 16. "But in driver's ed, it does give us the feeling we're different. In a way, it brought me down, because it reminds me of something I can't do."

Hundreds of school districts in Illinois require students to pass driver's education before they graduate, although the state only requires that districts offer the courses. A state education official says districts that require it should offer an exemption for disabled students.

"It defies logic to require blind students to take this course ... and waste their academic time," said Meta Minton, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

About 30 students at two Chicago high schools with programs for the visually impaired recently formed an advocacy group in part to change the policy.

A Chicago Public Schools official said Thursday the district would be open to waiving the drivers' education requirement for disabled students.

"I can't explain why up to this point no one has raised the issue and suggested a better way for visually impaired students to opt out of driver's ed," said Chicago schools spokesman Michael Vaughn.

Vaughn said parents of disabled students can, by law, request a change in the student's "individualized education plan" to exempt them from the rule. But teachers and students say it's a little-known option that school officials rarely, if ever, mention.

Brent Johnston, a teacher at a suburban high school and chairman of the Illinois High School/College Driver's Education Association, told the Chicago Tribune that the classes aren't a waste of time for blind students.

"I don't think you can ever get enough traffic safety," Johnston said. "Still, this shouldn't be the school's decision; it should be mom and dad's decision. A little commonsense would go a long way."

End of article.

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