Before congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, millions of children received inadequate special education services, and at least one million children were prevented from attending public schools altogether. Going to School details the effort of the Los Angeles Unified School District to include students with disabilities in the curriculum and provide them with the same educational opportunities as other students.
The undertaking is the result of a 1993 class action suit against the school district contending that it systematically violated the civil rights of its 65,000 special education students and perpetuated a "deeply entrenched culture of segregation." The board of education accepted liability and entered into a court supervised agreement promising to comply with federal and state laws. While some schools prove to be more successful than others, it becomes apparent that special-needs children thrive if they are given opportunities to meet high expectations.
Going to School - Seventh grader Ana Uribe catches the late bus after school.
Through the stories of disabled students, the viewer sees just what this type of opportunity means to them. Richard Martinez, who was born with cerebral palsy, has a profound effect on his classmates. While he benefits from being in a stimulating environment with a community of peers, his classmates learn to communicate with and assist their new friend, as well as increase their understanding of what it means to live with a disability. Richard's mother comments on his development and states that he never would have been exposed to these new challenges in traditional special education classes. A host of human rights issues intersect in the story of Ana Uribe, a 7th grader from El Salvador who was paralyzed when her house was bombed by guerrillas. Now in the U.S., her mother works seven days a week and finds it hard to devote the time needed to care for her disabled daughter. She fought to have Ana enter regular classes after spending two weeks in special education classes.
The film also focuses on the special education specialists, assistants, schoolteachers, and family members who work to ensure that these students get the most out of their education. The Parent Resource Network (PRN) is an example of the positive outcome of this effort. Every day the center handles thousands of calls from parents who speak English, Spanish, Russian, Armenian and Korean. Richard Martinez's mother, who volunteers at the center, recounts spending three years as her child's assistant because she was not told that the school could provide this service. The PRN works to ensure that parents know what services are available to them, and provides them with resources for navigating the educational system.
Going to School - Aaron Bruck receives occupational therapy in a room near his second grade class.
An excellent film for those working in the area of disability rights, Going to School illustrates that the right to education is an entitlement of all children. This film is also suitable for younger audiences in high school as a study of diversity. Though this documentary focuses on a specific area of the country, its lessons can be applied nationally and in many settings.