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  • Kathleen Layton

What NK Special Ed Parents Need to Know About Erin West Earle

In the November 3 issue, The Independent Newspaper received many letters to the editor that were not published in the print edition because of space constraints.

This letter may be viewed online at The Independent .


What NK Special Ed Parents Need to Know About Erin West Earle

As we work to rebuild the integrity of our NK schools, there is another systemic problem that is hurting some of our most vulnerable students – a lack of accountability in our Special Education program. It is a complex issue that has impacted my family and so many others.

I am a single mother of three NK graduates. Two of my children live with complex medical conditions that cause chronic pain and disability. We spent much of their high school years in hospitals and managing their medical needs. Educating kids living with chronic and/or unpredictable illnesses brings added challenges, but is achievable with proactive planning, good communication, and proper support.

I am a rare disease and disability advocate. Ironically, and despite significant effort, my husband and I were unsuccessful in protecting our own child’s basic rights to a fair and equal education in NK. My son did not get the consistent support one would expect for a child with physical disability and enormous obstacles.

There are many examples I could share. Our experience is well documented. My favorite is the time my son got a final grade of 24 and failed gym — in an online, class during Covid. This is a remarkable accomplishment, since he was wheelchair bound at the time. It is also an insult since he had proactively emailed the teacher prior to the close of the semester, asking if there were any additional assignments he could complete since he couldn’t do the physical ones. She never took the time to respond to him.

Even worse, when he explained to the teacher that he was in wheelchair, her response was that she was not aware. (No idea how/why IEP wasn’t on her radar?) But she told my son that this was a good lesson that he needs to learn to advocate better, and no apology was ever made. (Insert eye role here!)

This March, we learned he did not have enough credits to graduate on time due to delays in tutoring and other factors beyond his control. By then, he was worn down, frustrated and had enough of the one-size fits all solutions offered, faulty online programs he had to work with, and the amount of self-teaching he had to do on his own. He wanted to be done with high school and go onto college. We soon found out that too, was highly implausible.

He had two more electives to take, and summer classes did not finish until mid-August. Even worse, his high school transcript that colleges would use to assess him for admission was a mess, and in no way reflective of his academic ability or representative of the schools’ shortcomings such as the many times that he had to take tests and be graded when the “teaching part” was not given.

My son did not get to walk across the stage at graduation. (He was actually okay with it, explaining that he didn’t feel like he was part of the class anyways — how is THAT for successful inclusion?) In August, as his friends packed up and prepared to go to college, he deflected people’s questions of “what he is going to do next” and waited to see if there was any way he could still go to college in the Fall.

We tried one last Hail Mary. Thankfully our request for late admission due to special circumstances review (which NK High School did thankfully assist with) was granted. My son’s trajectory changed overnight, thanks to an admissions counselor at URI who cared enough to listen, get involved and advocate for him.

Erin West Earle took it upon herself to investigate. She reviewed months of emails documenting our challenges. She saw he really was a good candidate for college even though his transcript said otherwise. She guided us throughout the process providing support and encouragement.

Today he is at URI, excelling academically and happy to be having a “normal school experience” with his peers.

I saw Erin on campus running the Welcome to URI events. I watched her interacting with other students on campus. I witnessed her strong work ethic, organized leadership, communicative nature, and genuine concern for the welfare of all Freshman who were transitioning to college life.

NK needs leaders, like Erin, who are willing to take the time to care.

It really IS as simple as that.

Donna M. Sullivan

North Kingstown


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