For an afternoon, Mariah Harris wasn’t just the girl with Down syndrome. She was the star of the Senate Education Committee meeting.
“I need a real high school diploma,” the sixth-grader told the panel last week, her sequined headband glittering in the artificial light. “My dream is to go to college with my friends one day. I want to buy a condo and live on a golf course.”
Mariah and her mother traveled 452 miles from Broward County to champion a bill that they say would let the parents of special-needs students play a larger role in their child’s education. For Mariah, the proposed legislation could mean the difference between a special diploma and a standard diploma, her mother said.
The bill has spurred some of the most emotional moments of this year’s legislative session. But it has also met resistance from some advocacy groups, who say teachers and schools personnel — not parents — should have the final word in determining a child’s educational goals.
A provision that would allow parents to contract with private therapists during school hours is also drawing ire; some observers see it as an attempt to further the school-privatization agenda.
“This usurps the power of the schools at the most basic level,” said Kathleen Oropeza, of the Orlando-based parent group, Fund Education Now. “Can you imagine a class of 15 [special-education] kids with 15 hired consultants in the classroom?”