About the Holiday
Today we honor International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a holiday that raises awareness for people of different physical and mental abilities across the globe. The day was proclaimed an international holiday in 1992 by the United Nations in order to appreciate members of our society who are often marginalized or ignored because of their different abilities. Today we recognize the importance of creating a world in which everyone feels like an active, respected member and cultivating a society that is accessible and designed for all of us. To celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities learn more about the fight for disability education rights or talk to someone you know with a disability about their experiences. You can also visit the IDPWD website to learn about available services, resources, and how you can get involved. We Want to Go to School! is a perfect way to start a conversation with a child about education equality for people with disabilities.
Thank you to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of We Want to Go to School! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.
Review by Dorothy Levine
We Want to Go to School!: The Fight for Disability Rights
Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler | Illustrated by Janine Leffler
When Janine was born with a disability called cerebral palsy, she had lots of teachers to help her learn. With the aid from different instructors who helped build her speech, her muscles, and her hand coordination, Janine was able to learn, play, study, and graduate school with the rest of her peers. This would not have been true, however, had she been born a decade earlier. Before 1971, millions of kids with disabilities were banned from attending public schools.
Janine explains that the people in charge claimed that children with disabilities shouldn’t go to school with everyone else because it would take too much money to fund education for them, and that those with disabilities would distract the other children. They even tried to say children with disabilities wouldn’t be able to learn. The real reason so many children with disabilities had to stay home or in hospitals instead of going to school was because of people’s prejudice.
Many parents of Black children had also experienced discrimination when they were in school. Before 1954, Black children had to go to separate schools that were not given nearly as many resources or good teachers as the white kids received in public schools. Similarly, children with disabilities in some places could take a test to go to public school, but they then were placed in separate, or segregated, classrooms and not given the same quality of education as the other kids. “But in 1971 in Washington, DC, seven school-age children were tired of hearing NO! They wanted to go to school too.” When other families heard about the lawsuit these seven families had started, they joined in too.
So many children were not receiving public education because of disabilities, that all together they could file a class action lawsuit, “which meant that it stood up for a lot of children. And I mean a LOT! 18,000 students from the Washington, DC, area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities. Try to imagine 18,000. Then try to imagine 8,00,000 (8 million)! That’s how many children in the United States weren’t getting an education because they had disabilities.”
Joseph C. Waddy, the judge on the case took eleven long months to deliberate over his decision – “On the one hand, he knew that it would cost a lot of money to provide an education to these children. On the other hand, shouldn’t schools be spending their money on ALL children?” – Finally, Judge Waddy decided, and the families won! “All across the country, millions of students with disabilities could finally go to school and get the education they needed and deserved.” The text concludes with one final note from Janine: “Thank you, Peter, Janice, Jerome, Michael, George, Steven, and Duane. You changed many lives…including mine.”
After the resolution of Janine’s recounting of this landmark case, a page entitled “About Disability Education Rights in the United States” provides more details on the key points for readers and educators. The informational spread includes a direct quote from Judge Waddy’s ruling and a timeline of important landmarks for disability rights and education. In personal notes from Janine Leffler and her mom, Maryann, the authors talk about their connections to the disabled community. This insightful page concludes with a personal note from the last surviving Plaintiff’s Attorney on the case: Paul R. Dimond.
Janine Leffler and Maryann Cocca-Leffler collaborate to tell the important story of the Mills v. Board of Education of the District Columbia case that served as a critical turning point in the fight for disability education rights. Through Janine’s personal narration of the case, the two authors succinctly explain the unfolding of this history in terms that are engaging and easy to understand for young readers. Speech bubbles and intertwined text with illustrations make the story engaging and exciting for young readers to follow. On the page that states how many children with disabilities were not allowed to go to school in DC, and more widely across the US, the whole spread features 1,000 tiny faces of kids, to help readers fathom the enormity of 18,000 people, let alone 8 million. The children in the story represent a diverse crowd of races, genders, and abilities. A joy to read, and an essential story to learn. Education matters.
Ages 5 – 9
Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807535189
You can find an Educator’s Guide to download on the Albert Whitman & Company website here.
Discover more about Maryann Cocca-Leffler, her books, and her musical on her website.
To meet and learn about Janine Leffler and discover the books and other creative endeavors she has inspired, visit Janine’s Party.
You can find We Want to Go to School!: The Fight for Disability Rights at these booksellers
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