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The Case About Amy

The Case About Amy

Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    The Case About Amy
    Book Description:

    The Rowley family's struggle began when Amy entered kindergarten and culminated five years later in a pivotal decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. In effect, the Court majority concluded that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act did not mandate equal opportunity for children with disabilities in classes with typical children; a disappointing decision for disability advocates.

    The Supreme Court decided that schools were required only to provide enough help for children with disabilities to pass from grade to grade. The Court reversed the lower courts' rulings, which had granted Amy an interpreter, setting a precedent that could affect the quality of education for all individuals with disabilities.

    From the time Amy entered kindergarten in Peekskill, New York, her parents battled with school officials to get a sign language interpreter in the classroom. Nancy and Clifford Rowley, also deaf, struggled with officials for their own right to a communications process in which they could fully participate. Stuck in limbo was a bright, inquisitive child, forced to rely on partial lipreading of rapid classroom instruction and interaction, and sound amplifiers that were often broken and always cumbersome.

    R.C. Smith chronicles the Rowley family's dealings with school boards, lawyers, teachers, expert consultants, advocates, and supporters, and their staunch determination to get through the exhaustive process of presenting the case time after time to school adjudicative bodies and finally the federal courts. The author also documents his own "coming to awareness" about how the "able" see the "disabled."

    In the seriesHealth, Society, and Policy, edited by Sheryl Ruzek and Irving Kenneth Zola.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0531-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)

    Since the passage in 1975 of what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a number of important judicial interpretations of this landmark special education law have been issued. The first case to reach the United States Supreme Court, and the most important one, was the 1982Board of Education, Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowleycase (458 U.S. 176, 181). TheRowleycase remains the Court’s definitive answer to the most central question raised by the law: What, exactly, is an “appropriate” education for children with disabilities?

    This is the decision about which R. C. Smith...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. 1 Time Tears Us Apart
    (pp. 1-10)

    Amy thought Ashokan was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. The woods were deep and secret and the hills were for climbing. Morning and afternoon, the campers followed the trails to blacksmithing and broom-making and to the pond, where they found insects in leaflike homes, baby dragonflies, and newts. They went fishing with live worms for bait, using poles they had made themselves.

    Amy’s mother, Nancy Rowley, had arranged for a woman who had a mentally retarded son in the student visiting group to keep an eye on Amy. Such a woman would understand the needs of a...

  7. 2 The Battle Joined
    (pp. 11-39)

    Nancy Rowley first approached Furnace Woods Elementary School Principal Joseph Zavarella in the spring of 1976, almost eighteen months before Amy would be ready to enroll in kindergarten. In a letter to Assistant Superintendent of Schools Charles Eible, dated April 26, she described Zavarella as being cooperative, understanding, and willing to help.

    What she wanted of Eible, who was later to become superintendent of schools, she made very clear. Amy was presently enrolled in Croton Nursery School. Nancy wanted to enroll her in Furnace Woods in September 1977, integrating her in a hearing setting with the help of an “interpretertutor”...

  8. 3 Like Light Pouring Down over Me
    (pp. 40-62)

    I am trying to talk Amy into talking to me. Amy is listening, reacting or not reacting, depending on the subject. She is at least trying now, not evasive as she was on our first meeting a year and a half ago. But it does not come easily. She will answer direct, highly specific questions as best she can, but if I am not referring to a specific event that she remembers, she is vague. What does she remember about the last grade she attended in Furnace Woods? She smiles and shrugs. Does she ever hear from her old friends...

  9. 4 Vindication by Trial
    (pp. 63-91)

    On the morning of September 26, 1979, Ann Barbara Kligerman, chief of audiology for the Westchester County Medical Center, got up and, in accordance with a carefully thought-out decision, put on her blue cotton suit, a straight skirt and short-sleeved jacket, over a pin-striped red, white, and blue blouse—a decidedly tailored outfit. It was important to look professional and thus, as much as possible, to conceal the nervousness she felt. She had not slept well, her mind still full of the audiological test scores and definitions with which she had prepared herself. And, then, it was her first time...

  10. 5 A Case about Amy
    (pp. 92-113)

    In the aftermath of Judge Broderick’s order and opinion, Charles Eible, a quick-smiling, affable man who had succeeded to the post of superintendent of schools, became chief spokesperson for the Hendrick Hudson Central School District as the local press began to follow theRowleycase. Eible told thePeekskill Evening Starthat both the district and the state boards of education would appeal Judge Broderick’s decision.

    He was quoted as saying that the decision could have “enormous implications.” He elaborated thus, “Amy is a bright girl, very articulate, performing well in the upper group of her classmates. If Amy Rowley...

  11. 6 A “Voice” in the Classroom
    (pp. 114-125)

    The Rowleys thought that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision was well timed, given that Amy had already been through another school year without a sign language interpreter. Coming in mid-July, the decision meant, to them, that Amy would have her interpreter by the start of school, when she would be in the third grade. Their attorney, Michael Chatoff, was concerned about the intransigence of the school district, which was going about the business of readying an appeal to the Supreme Court. Nothing was done about an interpreter until after school began and the appellate court vacated its stay...

  12. 7 “Full Potential” in the Court
    (pp. 126-167)

    With the decision of the three-judge circuit court favoring the Rowleys and the strong dissent of Judge Mansfield, the case had begun to attract the attention of the major media. Two days after the decision was announced, theNew York Timescarried a lead editorial with the arresting title, “Going Wrong with Handicapped Rights.” It was a curious editorial, which did not mention the Rowleys by name and gave few particulars of the case. It began in the familiar “sounds good … but” editorial vein.

    “It sounds humane for a Federal Appeals Court to rule that the schools of Peekskill,...

  13. 8 Maybe It Wouldn’t Happen Today
    (pp. 168-181)

    When I began my search, years afterward, for the people I needed to help unravel what was still, to me, the mystery of theRowleycase, I found that I had quite a list of “missing persons,” people who had moved and might be difficult to locate. But fortunately, many of the major actors in the drama were still clustered in the network of old villages on the Hudson—Buchanan, Peekskill, Montrose—in Westchester County. Much of this prosperous area could be described as a series of lightly interconnected suburbs surrounding crusty, little towns where commerce is still warmly confined...

  14. 9 What Amy Hears
    (pp. 182-197)

    At age twenty, already a sturdy young man, Jimmy Walcott finished high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. The school gave him a certificate saying that he had completed twelve years of public education. His reading skills were at second-, possibly third-grade level. His math skills were closer to first- or second-grade levels. His comprehension, when he paid attention, extended just beyond that of a first- or second-grader.

    His foster parents, Wayne and Donna Walcott, had a hard time accepting all this. They had his I.Q tested twice and it was right at 100. Yet for all the efforts educators had...

  15. 10 A Matter of Growth
    (pp. 198-219)

    I had Judge Walter Mansfield on my list of prospective interviewees but before I could call him he died, in 1987. Three years later, I decided to track down what I could about the judge through his law clerk. That call led to others. Everybody was friendly and helpful and I found myself learning a little about a man highly admired by many, including Judge Vincent Broderick, the district court judge inRowley, whose opinion Judge Mansfield had dissented with so vigorously and, I thought, with something curiously approaching passion.

    The son of a former mayor of Boston, Mansfield had...

  16. 11 Amy in Oz
    (pp. 220-228)

    Robert Coultas was having second thoughts, and they were all doubts. His first thought had been one of those midnight lightning ideas that now seemed to be evanescing under the weight of day. How could he have thought that a deaf teenager could be the answer to his local Rotary International’s quest for “special” young people to bring into their international educational-cultural exchange program? Special was one thing, deaf was something else. Now he was on his way to an interview with a deaf family, at which an interpreter would be present. The international exchange program required teenagers of a...

  17. 12 Equal Opportunity Writ Large
    (pp. 229-239)

    In his law offices, former Senator Charles McC. Mathias of Maryland talked about his boyhood in the Monocacy River town of Frederick, the home of patriot Barbara Frietchie and once a settlers’ stop on the road to the Ohio Valley. Around the dinner table in the Mathias home, the conversation was often about civic and school affairs and the dominant educational institution in town, the Maryland School for the Deaf.

    These conversations were lively ones, for young Charles’ father was for many years a member of the board of visitors of the school for the deaf. The issues of whether...

  18. 13 Is It Really Money?
    (pp. 240-259)

    In an effort to understand better the thinking of key media writers aboutRowleyat critical times in the history of the case, I decided to begin by looking up Roger Starr. His article, “Wheels of Misfortune,” inHarper’smagazine in January 1982, had taken the position, just two months before the Supreme Court hearing, that individuals with disabilities had no special “rights” as a result of their condition and would have to compete for “heavy” costs of rehabilitation with other social concerns that might be more pressing. Because Starr was on the editorial board of theNew York Times...

  19. 14 Amy Remembering
    (pp. 260-268)

    Early one summer day in 1991, over the tty, Amy said she had a proposition for me. I should come up to visit her parents in Mountain Lakes, we would all drive up to Croton to visit our mutual friends, Charles and Helen Brooks, and Amy and I would spend a morning walking through Furnace Woods Elementary School slowly, classroom by classroom. Amy would try to slip back into her childhood, as if she were putting on clothing hung away for years unused. She would try to speak again with the voice of a child, but when she had spoken,...

  20. 15 Not Quite Human
    (pp. 269-281)

    What I remember most about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, besides that unforgettable voice over the radio, was the boy’s-eye view of him I had in the Fox Movietone News segments with Saturday afternoon movie double-features. I remember the toothy smile and the expansive wave and the businesslike fedora and the glasses glinting in the sun, and I am sure that I placed no significance in the circumstance—if! ever noticed it—that he always seemed to be photographed seated. I was a gangly, teenager before I realized that the president had been paralyzed by polio and was for the most...

  21. 16 Struggling andSucceeding
    (pp. 282-291)

    Of all the public schools I had seen that had done good work with children with disabilities, one stuck in my mind, because it had received no foundation grants and was included in no nationally touted educational programs. It was Public School 213 in Bayside, New York, which I had visited back in 1982 while working onSeven Special Kids.

    P.S. 213 was on the surface just another public school in the New York City system. An ordinary school constructed in 1956 in a solidly middle-class Jewish, Irish, and Italian neighborhood, it had not been built to deal with a...

  22. 17 If Heaven Isn’t Accessible, God Is in Trouble
    (pp. 292-301)

    Two stories in one day’s worth of newspapers fixed my mind on the steep, stony road we have had to climb even to be as far along as we are today in our attitudes toward individuals with disabilities. The first news story was about a deaf, ninety-five-year-old Mrican American named Junius Wilson who had had the bad luck to be arrested on an attempted rape charge back in 1925. The State of North Carolina adjudged him insane because he couldn’t hear and didn’t talk, put him in a segregated hospital, castrated him as a sexual deviant, and forgot about him...

  23. 18 To Be Who We Are
    (pp. 302-314)

    For Michael Pierschalla, there have been two great blessings. The first occurred when he could hear his own voice and the voices of others again; the second, when he could, at last, hear music again. It is not quite what it used to be when he was a nineteen-year-old playing guitar in his garage and listening to Eric Clapton and Aretha Franklin, but music once again moves him and now, in his late thirties, his tastes have broadened and he is even listening to jazz.

    The cause of Pier schall a’s loss of hearing is still unknown. He awoke one...

  24. INDEX
    (pp. 315-322)