State school board member Lisa Cummins publicly criticized by Down syndrome advocacy group

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Utah State Board of Education member Lisa Cummins drew criticism from national advocacy groups for her comments about students with Down syndrome and other disabilities. (Photo via Utah State Board of Education video)

(KUTV) — Even before Lisa Cummins was on the Utah State Board of Education, she was raising eyebrows.

She garnered unwanted attention from The National Down Syndrome Congress back in September of 2016 after a controversial answer to a question about Dyslexia.

During a debate with her then-opponent, education attorney Erin Preston, in September of 2016, Cummins suggested that the criteria for special education students had been broadened inappropriately. In doing so, the state was intermingling developmentally challenged kids with, as Cummins said, “normal kids.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reported Cummins went on to say, “They are clumped together in the same group,” and continued, “We’re setting our kids up for failure on purpose.”

“Every child is different," Preston responded. "Every child is special, and every child is normal because each child is unique."

The exchange drew the ire of the NDSC. The organization issued a public rebuke:

The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) is writing this letter in response to an article published on September 20 about the District 11 School Board candidates.

The article states:

The definition and criteria for special education services, Cummins said, has been inappropriately broadened in an effort to intermingle developmentally challenged children with "normal kids.

Educating students with disabilities in the general education classroom to the maximum extent appropriate has been the law for decades.

In fact, there are 40 years of research on students with disabilities that show a positive correlation between time spent in a general education classroom and performance on reading and math, communication skills, social skills, engagement, breadth of social networks, pro-social behavior, and enhanced independent living, employment, and participation in inclusive community activities when compared to students educated in segregated environments.

There is also evidence of academic and other benefits for their non-disabled classmates, detailed by the NDSC on its web site.

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