Definition of ‘exceptional student’ may expand

“Exceptional students.” Photo courtesy:

Senate Bill 236, introduced by Sen. Shervin Jones, D-West Park, would expand the definition of the term “exceptional students” to also include those who may have developmental delays.

According to the bill, “exceptional student” means any student who has been determined eligible for a special program in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education. The term includes students who are gifted and students with disabilities who have an intellectual disability; autism spectrum disorder; a speech impairment; a language impairment, etc.

If approved, the bill would impact students starting at age 9 or the completion of second grade, whichever comes first.

Child disability advocacy programs such as the Hang Tough Foundation encourages further education for students. They also want to provide students with skills and experiences to allow children with disabilities to have a successful adaptation to society.

Executive director of the Hang Tough Foundation, Janelle Irwin, says that the children who are in the program certainly should be considered “exceptional students.”

“They all deserve equal access and inclusivity to be able to welcome them in educational environments,” Irwin said. “We live in a culture where everybody should be able to get access to education. We have some of the smartest most brilliant students and they need that opportunity to be able to go to a classroom and succeed and have great success. It is going to be crucial as they grow up and join our community and become part of the workforce.”

Another local organization that assists students who would be considered exceptional is CeDAR on Florida A&M University’s campus. It provides resources to students who attend the university and face disabilities both in the community and at home.

FAMU alumna Imani Thomas shares her personal experience with her father’s disability and why those with disabilities should be respected in society just as much as those without.

“They always assume the worst when you say disability,” Thomas said. “Whenever I talk about my dad most people think he’s always in the bed all the time or that he can’t talk. He can’t walk, but he can still do everything everyone else can do.”

For students who have developmental delays in education, systems such as the Hang Tough Foundation, Gretchen Everhart School in Leon County and Florida’s Learning and Disabilities Research Center could be valuable sources of information if SB 236 is approved. It is waiting to be heard by the Senate’s Appropriations Committee.