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  • Writer's pictureBy Aline Yamashita

Rights and responsibilities

Human behavior changes as social norms evolve. I remember walking the Fenway to get to campus. In the mid-70s, society made a decision through court action that skin color would not separate schools.

Integration shall occur. To keep the peace, that frequent walk to our academic campus was lined with National Guard soldiers armed with guns. They were prepared to de-escalate any violence that could erupt from all tones sharing classrooms.

I learned much those four years. Immersed with a black sister community, I wanted to join their parties because they always seemed to have so much fun. But it was candidly stated that while I was brown, I wasn’t black.

So, even as court decisions said we shall learn together, it didn’t mean we would play together — yet. The African American women were smart and lovely. I also learned that they could call themselves the “n-word” but nobody else could.

Living in the world of disabilities where the courts have ordered that all people shall learn together regardless of abilities, I’ve observed that that transfer of who can call who what didn’t transfer. Perhaps, that’s because nobody really wants to be called the “r-word.” Maybe the “n- word” carries a sense of affectionate identity that they want to keep.

On Guam, we used to school those with disabilities at Chief Brodie Elementary. So, throughout the island, folks would call someone the “r- word” if they acted differently. That’s not nice. No affection felt there.

As the Office of Civil Rights has made huge strides in setting the rules to protect each person’s civil rights, the training programs and the evaluation programs have not.

A huge lag occurs throughout many school districts. Guam included. The difference, however, is that we are an intimate community. Our size is an asset in this situation. Until the Board of Education insists that those with special needs are prepared for life, promoted with excellence, and provided support, the system will continue to get away with what it does

. Until the Board of Education insists that the superintendent make special education a priority by ensuring that each employee is expected to know, do and care about schooling aspects that support those with disabilities, we will continue to teacher shop and beg that our kids have a safe day.

Until the Educator Certification Council insists that each teacher is equipped to work with all students and shows evidence of course work and practicum experience, teachers will get to select their students. Yes, some teacher instructional styles work better with some student learning styles but, overall, a family should not have to fret about their student being accepted, respected, supported and taught to learn and laugh.

While the School of Education may have made some progress in their training program to ensure all teachers are prepared to teach all students, it can make greater strides by ensuring every course has strands that teach the teachers how to provide accommodations. If you think they already know how, speak to teachers – the recent graduates and they’ll honestly tell you they are not sure.

Better yet, walk with me through a store and listen as family members share their stories. Always, they are encouraged to work with their school leadership to ensure their IEP team is “with it” and has their child is at the heart of the work. Early childhood and elementary schools do better than middle schools that do better than high schools.

Transitioning into the world of work is yet another nightmare. Yes, we have a disability but know that we are most capable of being productive. It’s time for OCR to speak with families.

Aline Yamashita is an educator and former senator. Send feedback to


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