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Moorestown Valedictory Editorial Shows Bias Against the Disabled Dear Editor: It was appalling to see a respected New Jersey legal publication take the position of your June 9 editorial regarding the Moorestown disability-valedictorian dispute ["Valedictory to an Unseemly Affair," 172 N.J.L.J. 942] opposing a child’s assertion of her civil rights notwithstanding that her position was vindicated by the federal judiciary. Moreover, it appeared to demonstrate a disturbing knee-jerk bias against the disabled. First, your editorial repeats the insidious armchair charge that this child’s disability is false and/or faked. The district court opinion makes clear that the disability diagnosis was scrutinized by physicians engaged by both the school district and the family, and that all the physicians involved agreed with the diagnosis and the need for the services at issue. Yet, your editorial assumes that the physicians must be wrong because the child carried a torch or participated in an activity or two. Such medical “analysis” of editorial board lawyers has no place in print and borders on character assassination, given that the opinions and evaluations of every medical professional involved in this case is completely to the contrary. Second, you ignore the bigoted basis upon which the challenge to her disability has at this late date even been raised. Neither the school superintendent nor the general Moorestown community ever raised any concern that Ms. Hornstine’s diagnosis, if false, might disadvantage other disabled children in the community with respect to their pursuit of necessary substantive educational services, given the high costs and limited budgets for such services. Rather, the motivation to challenge her diagnosis arose only from the perception that it might somehow impact the pursuit of a mere honorific title by a few extremely fortunate, highly successful nondisabled students. The challengers should be ashamed. Third, the concept that it is somehow “unfair” to provide necessary services to a disabled child demonstrates serious ignorance of the law and of adaptive educational services. As a legal matter, the school district supplied the adaptive services in order to provide Hornstine with a free and appropriate education in light of her particular disability as required by the IDEA. This is her civil right, not an “advantage.” As an educational matter, the provision of necessary services to a disabled child creates the level field you claim is so important. It can only be perceived otherwise if you either ignore the disability (as in the effort to discredit Ms. Hornstine’s diagnosis) or simply refuse to acknowledge the educational disadvantages faced by the disabled. For example, an unthinking nondisabled person may erroneously believe that a dyslexic child who is given extra time on tests has an “advantage” because the nondisabled person is myopically focused on the grade that they believe they could achieve if they were given similar extra time, rather than an appropriate focus on the disadvantage that the disabled child would have to endure if held to the lesser time period. The elimination of a disadvantage is not an advantage. The success of disabled students who receive adaptive services reflects no injustice on nondisabled students who are so fortunate in life to be free of significant obstacles to their learning. Fourth, you have it completely backwards when you blame Ms. Hornstine for failing to teach her classmates about “civility and excellence.” Any demonstration of lack of civility or denigration of excellence in this matter arose entirely from the selfish and callous actions of a group of highly successful nondisabled students and their parents, who attempted to play politics in order to manipulate the system to change the rules to favor their children after-the-fact. It is they who failed to approach the honorific valedictorian title with “grace,” “dignity” or “civility,” and it is they who denigrate excellence, showing no reluctance to stoop even to personal attacks, insinuations of faked disabilities and claims that her achievements were “unfairly” obtained. It is they who demonstrated a disdain for the rules and an unseemly lust for a title. The lesson that this year’s class will hopefully learn from these events is that, regardless of your favored position in life, you cannot always bully your way over the rights and achievements of others. I hope they learned that the federal courts will act against even a well-heeled community attack in order to protect the civil rights of even an unpopular child. Finally, before you leap to your stated conclusion that a child who is unable because of a disability to attend a “typical” school is enjoying the “benefits” of home tutoring and the “freedom” from the distractions of the normal high school experience, you should spend a few minutes talking to parents of disabled students who require special education classes and/or adaptive services. Ask them if their children are fortunate to be so “free” of the disadvantages of a more typical public school experience. I expect that you would be hard pressed to find a single parent who wouldn’t gladly forego all of the special “benefits” in exchange for eliminating their child’s disabilities and for the chance to have that child endure the “distractions” and “unfair” nature of a typical life. Jerry L. Tanenbaum Cherry Hill

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