Most high school students eagerly await the day they pass driver’s education class. But 16-year-old Mayra Ramirez is indifferent about it.
Ramirez is blind, yet she and dozens of other visually impaired sophomores in Chicago schools are required to pass a written rules-of-the-road exam in order to graduate — a rule they say takes time away from subjects they might actually use.
“In other classes, you don’t really feel different because you can do the work other people do,” Ramirez said. “But in driver’s ed, it does give us the feeling we’re different. In a way, it brought me down, because it reminds me of something I can’t do.”
Hundreds of school districts in Illinois require students to pass driver’s ed, although the state only requires that districts offer the courses. A state education official says districts that require it should exempt disabled students.
“It defies logic to require blind students to take this course,” said Meta Minton, spokeswoman for the state Board of Education.
Move to change policy
About 30 students at two Chicago high schools with programs for the visually impaired recently formed an advocacy group in part to change the policy.
A Chicago Public Schools official said the district would be open to waiving the requirement.
“I can’t explain why up to this point no one has raised the issue and suggested a better way for visually impaired students to opt out of driver’s ed,” said Chicago schools spokesman Michael Vaughn.
Vaughn said parents of disabled students can, by law, request a change in their child’s individual education plan, which could include a driver’s ed exemption. But teachers and students said that is a little-known option, and that they have been told driver’s ed is required to graduate.