‘It takes a village’

Those who are disabled need our support

Recently Iowa stood center stage on a national platform as the Field of Dreams game was played between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees.

This event brought attention from all across the country and the rest of the world as the romantic movie “Field of Dreams” came to life 30 years after its release. It was a great display of nostalgia and the iconic view of Iowa that we as natives have come to know and love.

It painted a picture of Iowa, that unfortunately, I think you might have to go back 30 years to find. Something else happened in Iowa just over 30 years ago, too. One of our senators, Tom Harkin, championed and helped to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. Keep this in mind as we continue.

I am a proud Iowa farm boy, born and raised. I’ve traveled the world, lived in multiple states across this great country, and when it came time to start a family of my own, Iowa was the only choice. With our strong values, morals and ethics, pristine communities, and impeccable schools who wouldn’t want to raise their children in a place like this? A place that is so easily confused for heaven as we learned in “Field of Dreams.”

My wife and I did just that, and we have been blessed with three wonderful children. Our oldest, was born with a disability. She has thrived in our community, fighting to grow stronger by the day and building friendships and bonds with her classmates and teachers that would rival a Hollywood script about overcoming obstacles. That is, until recently.

With the onset of COVID-19 and the move to virtual schooling, she was stuck at home with her mom and me as we juggled both working full-time and the daunting task of becoming schoolteachers. While we put forth a colossal effort, we paled in comparison when held to the standards of the amazing educators in our community.

We tried our best, in an effort to protect her, because this virus is especially challenging for our daughter due to her chronic lung disease. I could fill books worth of pages with the details of her journey, but this is not the time or place for that, nor do I wish for this column to be a fulcrum of guilt.

Although, if I’m being honest with myself and the reader, I think many of our leaders deserve a healthy portion of guilt right now. That said, I am simply trying to paint a picture of what this issue of masks in schools looks like for the families of children with disabilities. While this was impactful for our oldest, her younger sister also missed out on kindergarten. Though not disabled herself, the lack of safety protocols and the unknown nature of the virus when the pandemic first started, resulted in an inability for her to attend school for fear of bringing something home to her sister. So, we had two virtual learners, and thank God we were only dealing with second grade level math.

Now we are over a year and half into this pandemic and we know a lot more about the virus. But it is also changing and mutating at every corner.

Our state government has taken the stance that “science be damned, we just need to get back to normal, and there is no need for masks in our schools.” If you want to wear a mask, go for it, it’s no different than wearing a pink or purple shirt to school. But at what point do we contradict ourselves when we say wear a mask ifyou want to, but then enact laws that prohibit both public and private schools from implementing policy to encourage the wearing of mask. I too agree that big government is not the solution and that the ultimate freedom is allowing individuals and communities to self-govern.

I’m a bit confused though as to how implementing a mask ban in elementary schools allows for self-governing. How taking the power from local school boards and administrators to effectively protect children from a highly contagious virus, isn’t somehow government overreach. So, Governor Reynolds, what code of ethics should I reference that states “doing the right thing,” and “trusting the people of Iowa” equals denying access to education for children with disabilities?

Which Iowa are we going to promote? Are we living in the heaven-like landscape of the Field of Dreams. A place with former leaders like Senator Tom Harkin, who championed the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensured access to education for our disabled individuals? Or are we instead going to isolate and cast those children back into the shadows?

A one-way letter is far from a conversation so let me pose a few questions:

1. Do individuals with disabilities have the right to public education in a safe environment?

2. Is it possible to promote freedom of choice and access to public services while still protecting our most vulnerable?

3. Does it make sense to require masks for our elementary students, grades 6 and under, to ensure access to education for all, even the disabled? Particularly the ones who do not yet have the freedom to choose to be vaccinated.

I wish to leave you with an image from my elementary school. Growing up, I went to Corpus Christi in Fort Dodge. On the wall in our cafeteria was a huge gold banner covered in stick figures like fireman, policemen, doctors, nurses, mothers, and fathers with the captivating message “It takes a village to raise a child.”

My question is, “Where is our village?” I look around today and see self-absorbed individuals, not a collective, but instead a society that wishes to climb the ladder and then quickly pull it up so those at the bottom, that are just getting started, can’t catch up.

Senator Harkin used this analogy of a ladder in his final address to Congress, and I believe it is as relevant today as it was then. I think we as Iowans need a reminder of the incredible legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, that Senator Harkin helped pass. Legislation, that coincidentally, took place within a few years of “Field of Dreams” hitting the silver screen. The movie that has garnered so much positive attention for Iowa in recent weeks.

If you’re not familiar and perhaps don’t have the time to pour through old articles or to actually read the Americans with Disabilities Act; I suggest going out to YouTube and watching both Senator Harkin’s Farewell address to the Senate, and perhaps more importantly, watching his speech from the floor as the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was passed into law. It was a glowing moment for Iowa. That is the kind of Iowa I am proud of, the one that leads by example and extends a hand, not a free ride, to those on the ladder below.

Perhaps we should dust off those ideals and values that were recently on display in Dyersville and embraced by this country at the Field of Dreams. Perhaps it is time for another story of a father who is hoping to have a catch with his child for years to come. Perhaps it is time to start acting like a village. Perhaps we could put some effort into taking care of those with disabilities and the most vulnerable around us. Perhaps Governor Reynolds should protect Americans with Disabilities and as she so frequently says, “Do the right thing.”

KC Coleman is regional services manager for UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center.


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