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Saving Dobson: A story of class, disability, and self-preservation in a Philly school

  • dobson
    Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY




What would you do for your kid?

For most parents, the immediate answer is as simple as it is cliched: anything. 

Often doing "anything" for one's child has consequences for other children. Moving to a wealthier school district leaves another district one family poorer. Testing into a magnet school deprives the neighborhood school of a talented youngster. Shelling out for those piano lessons gives your kid a leg up in the college admissions process, but also puts the child who didn't get lessons at a disadvantage.

Usually, these consequences are indirect — or at least indirect enough to avoid real intellectual scrutiny.

That wasn't the case this year for the parents at James Dobson Elementary, a quiet school of 300 tucked into the hills of Northwest Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood.

In the spring, the parents at Dobson discovered — or thought they discovered — a School District plan to increase the number of special education students in their building. At first, they bristled. Then they raged.

Taking on more special ed kids would imperil their own children, the parents said. They said it would ruin Dobson's reputation and drive young families out of the neighborhood.

Once mobilized, the parents made a bold request. They asked the School District of Philadelphia to restrict the number of special education students at Dobson; they asked, essentially, for special treatment.

And in the end, they may just have gotten it.

This is a story of impossible choices, the kind that parents and administrators confront daily in a large, poor school district.

Should a group of parents slam the door on vulnerable, but troubled students? Or should they welcome all comers, even if it might harm their own children?

Should a school district that is scrapping to keep parents in the city bend to the demands of those parents? Or should it ignore their complaints, perpetuating every stereotype of the disconnected bureaucrat?

What would do you for your kid? What should you do?

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks


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