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MailTribune.com
  • Let her finish the class

    Then decide how to handle would-be college students such as Eliza Schaaf
  • Southern Oregon University ought to let Eliza Schaaf finish her ceramics class. We hope there's not a question left about that at this late hour.
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  • Southern Oregon University ought to let Eliza Schaaf finish her ceramics class. We hope there's not a question left about that at this late hour.
    Schaaf, who has Down syndrome, attended about two-thirds of the sessions of "Intro to Ceramics" at SOU this fall before her presence there became a topic for public discussion last week, after the administration withdrew her from the class.
    Stories, letters, petitions, Web postings and a protest on campus followed rapidly, turning the issue of Schaaf's disruption of a class into disruption of a much more significant sort.
    There's a bigger discussion to be had here, no question. But right now, before it goes there, the university ought to put Schaaf back into the ceramics class and let her finish out the term.
    Her parents and classmates are arguing that case. And why not? Schaaf made it most of the way through the course before the university's concerns about her being there emerged. All indications are that she would have finished successfully if the university had accepted the family's attempt at offering classroom help.
    That it was unwilling to do so and instead withdrew Schaaf from the class hurt the family but is damaging the university much more significantly as it attempts to wrap up the situation without looking as though it's trampling on the rights of students with disabilities.
    Which is not to say that's necessarily what's going on here. While it is difficult from the outside to understand all the issues in this case — SOU isn't talking about it — it's clear that universities should be able to bar some students from some classes. Even students who graduate from high school have no intrinsic right to a college education: It's for those who can meet the academic requirements of entry.
    But the university does bear responsibility for making clear who can and can't attend.
    It appears that Schaaf's parents attempted to enroll their daughter in what could be an appropriate class, ceramics, through an appropriate process. They first signed her up through a process designed for students who take few credits and thus don't need to submit transcripts or test scores and later changed her status to "auditing" the class, or taking it without credit. By their accounts, they attempted to work within the university system to make sure their daughter's enrollment followed the rules.
    They say they were shocked to receive the letter withdrawing her from the class.
    Their experience speaks not necessarily to whether Schaaf's presence in the class was appropriate but to how well the university was, or wasn't, able to handle an unusual student's desire to enroll.
    The university ought to let Schaaf finish out the term in ceramics — and then turn its attention to addressing that issue long-term.
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