By Stephen R. Henderson
Upon returning home to a shared room at the Burford Manor Nursing Home in Davis on Jan. 10, 68 year old Larry Shirley felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, something seldom experienced his lifetime of hardship, hard luck, hard licks, hard knocks, hard work.
That is about all Larry Shirley has ever known until Monday night, when members of ECP Board of Education, and Superintendent Sheila Riddle awarded Larry James Shirley a certificate of attendance for his student years at Elmore City Schools. The same school where most of his 12 siblings attended or graduated. One of 13 children born to Elsie and Buerl Shirley, Larry was the one never graduating, suffering from a severe, undiagnosed, neuro-developmental disorder. A neurological condition affecting brain functioning, causing significant cognitive, social and communication delay.
Without today’s special educational services, normal educational progress was more than difficult, learning almost impossible. While Larry advanced through grades, eventually cognitive learning reached an impasse, halted, learning frustration became overwhelming, Larry dropped out.
Ironically, if Larry had been born one year later, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act implemented one year earlier, Larry would have qualified for special services under the U.S. Department of Education’s IDEA legislation passed by Congress in 1975.
Under IDEA regulations, Larry would have received psychological testing, and evaluation qualifying him for special education services, placed on an IEP (Individual Education Plan), then progress supervised and guided until graduation.
Unfortunately, 1974 was Larry’s graduation year, the same year learning became too difficult, Larry dropped out. Determined to help his family meet their financial needs with three younger siblings at home, Larry took a local job sacking groceries. Now Larry regrets the decision to drop out, realizing the mistake made. Consequently, for all the legislative opportunities IDEA advanced students with disabilities, it also left some like Larry behind. Mutual reciprocity was never considered for students with disabilities dropping out of school before to lDEA enactment.Therefore, Larry fell through a crack in the normal educational bell curve. Students quitting school before IDEA’s existence, didn’t qualify for special services.
Superintendent Riddle and the ECP board recognized the inherent inadequacy in the federal law, and did the best they could to correct almost five decades of social injustice tethered to the back of a former student with a previously un-diagnosed, pervasive, neuro-develpmental disorder. By identifying the crack which Larry fell, Elmore City Schools may have accomplished something no public school in this state, or possibly the nation, have done.
Retroactively, ECP Schools awarded a certificate of attendance to a former student dropping out of school due to a severe neurodevelopmental disorder prior to IDEA enactment. Larry’s undiagnosed disability impeded skill development, social communication, executive functioning, cognitive processing, his ability to learn. Unfortunately, Larry become another regrettable educational statistic, a high school drop out. After consideration, Superintendent Riddle and ECP Board of Education acted, correcting a decades old social, and educational injustice by awarding Larry James Shirley a certificate of attendance for his years attending Elmore City School.
By Stephen R. Henderson