Special Education in Washington State

specialeducationprogram2The McCleary case currently before the Washington Supreme Court is a landmark case of substantial importance that will have lasting impact on our state’s public education system, addressing the long-outdated system of funding for ALL children in our public schools. This is a critical time to raise the issues that face students with disabilities every day in our public schools.  Students with disabilities are seated squarely in the “opportunity gap” by any measure – including low graduation rates, high rates of disciplinary action including suspension and expulsion for behavior related to their disability, low rates of inclusion and high rates of isolation, use of restraint in classrooms, and low rates of employment and access to post-secondary training after graduation.

The Arc of King County joined with The Arc of Washington and other advocates for children with disabilities in filing an Amicus Brief in McCleary v State of Washington to bring attention to these concerns. This is the first Amicus Brief in the landmark school-funding case to focus on special education. An amicus is a “friend of the court” legal brief that offers a unique perspective or new set of facts for the court to consider.  Courts usually only hear testimony and consider evidence from those witnesses presented by the parties and an amicus brief brings additional attention to important information that the court may not have received during trial.

As cited in the brief, “More than 125,000 students in Washington have disabilities requiring special education. For a fair chance to succeed, these children must have special instruction designed to meet their individual needs,” adding, “the Legislature has paid for special education as if every student needs the same funding, instead of fully funding the actual costs of properly educating children with disabilities.”

The Supreme Court has been imposing sanctions of $100,000 a day against the State until it adopts a complete plan for complying with its constitutional duty to fully finance basic education. The State has asked for the sanctions to be lifted, but an analysis by Arc of Washington found serious special education funding gaps, thus denying part of basic education accessibility. For example, new state data shows:

  • The State allocates money to districts assuming 12.7 percent of each district’s student population in Kindergarten through 12th grade are enrolled in special education. However, at least 120 school districtscurrently have a greater percentage of special education students than the State pays for;
  • Large districts such as Seattle and Spokane spend millions of dollars more on special education than the State provides, using local tax levies to make up for the wide discrepancy between actual costs and State allocations.

Special education falls within the Legislature’s definition of “basic education,” which must provide broad educational opportunities and prepare all children to be self-supporting citizens. The Amicus Brief explains that the Legislature has overlooked the special needs of children with disabilities in planning funding reforms. In addition, the brief cites concerns that the current state budget grossly underfunds paraeducators, who provide nearly 60% of direct instruction to special education students in Washington State.

“When it comes to funding basic education, children with disabilities have the greatest needs, and their voice must be heard when determining if the ‘paramount duty’ to fully fund education has been met,” said Katherine George, of counsel, Harrison-Benis LLP and author of the Amicus Brief.

The Arc of King County and The Arc of Washington are excited to take this bold step toward ensuring that students with disabilities have equitable opportunities to be included and access all of the same programs and services other children enjoy in our public schools with the same chances to achieve and succeed in their learning.

To read more, please visit:


Community Change Champions

This month, we want to highlight a staff person who is doing great work as a change agent in his community. You probably have already met him – Eric Matthes, the coordinator of the Community Change Champions at The Arc of King County. He is a longtime activist advocate who is heavily involved in legislative advocacy. He is also an adult with Down syndrome.

In the last legislative session, HB 2403 was a bill relating to Down syndrome resources of interest for many advocacy groups. Eric, along with many activist advocates, parents and professionals, spoke to their legislators to emphasize the importance of this bill. Eric testified at a hearing regarding this bill, by sharing his personal story of being born with Down syndrome and the lack of information and support the medical professionals provided to his parents. The result of the advocacy and education was HB 2403 was signed into state law. Now medical professionals are to provide up-to-date, evidence-based, written information about Down syndrome regarding support services, hotlines, Down syndrome organizations, and support groups to expectant parents receiving a positive prenatal diagnosis and parents who have a child with Down syndrome in culturally and linguistically appropriate form. To learn more about HB 2403 go to, http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2015-16/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/2403.PL.pdf

This is an example of what local activist advocates can do in our state. Eric’s program supports and educates people with disabilities to become strong activist advocates for themselves and the community. Recently the name of the program was updated to Community Change Champions, reflecting the real change that happens when these activist advocates get involved. Along with this name change came the development of the mission, vision and values of Community Change Champions.

Mission – We promote the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by empowering activist advocates with leadership and advocacy skills to ensure full inclusion and community involvement throughout their lifetime.

Vision – We envision a society in which people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not only respected but engaged as equal citizens who make valuable contributions within their community and have the tools and opportunities to make personal and civic decisions to ensure the civil rights of all people.


  • Don’t work on us; work with us
  • Nothing about us without us
  • Equity for all
  • Label jars not people
  • Together we make a difference

Community Change Champions connects people with disabilities to advocacy groups in Washington state, empowers people to become strong leaders and activist advocates, and educates King County Legislators about important disability related topics and current legislation that are top priorities to people with disabilities and advocacy groups to create a more inclusive community with community based supports.

If you or someone you know wants to get connected to legislative advocacy contact Eric Matthes to learn more about the opportunities in King County.

Email: ematthes@arcofkingcounty.org

Phone: 206-829-7044

“Go Big” Idealism

Ivanova Smith, a former intern from The Arc of King County who has autism, is our blogger this month. She is a strong advocate for disability rights, and an equally passionate advocate for civil rights for everyone. She can often be seen in Olympia or at special events around the state making sure that people with I/DD are being represented and are getting equal treatment. 


“Go Big” Idealism

Some people tell me that I’m too idealistic. But what’s wrong with idealism when it means creating a world where everyone with a disability has their freedom?

Some people believe that people with severe disabilities can’t handle the type of freedoms that we are fighting for all people to share. They separate us by ability but whether we are ‘high functioning’ or ‘lower functioning’, we all share the same desires. We don’t want to be imprisoned! We want to get equal wages for our work! We want to be treated with respect! We want to be included!

These people claim we are too idealistic, but people thought that Martin Luther King was unrealistic too!! The civil rights movement for black citizens asked for the same basic rights we are seeking. People with disabilities desire inclusion. They may think that my “Go Big” idealism is it too much ask for, but Dr. King and I disagree with them.

I advocate against institutions because people like me just want our freedom to live in the community. Yet the people who support institutions act like we are too idealistic. They believe that living in an institution is not imprisonment. They refuse to acknowledge how many rights are taken away from the people who are institutionalized.

There is another part of this that really bothers me. When I attend legislative hearings, I Ivanova3hear some parents complain about their DD children to the legislature. I don’t understand how they call their own children a burden. When I hear this, it crushes me. It hurts just like when someone calls me retard over and over again. It is degrading.

These comments make me sad and confused, especially when the same people then try to act nice to me. They say terrible things about their children and then smile and try to be friends with self-advocates like me. It’s painful to experience, yet I face it a lot during the legislative session. They claim to be allies in some ways, but they complain when people like me want to close institutions and end sheltered workshops.

They may not understand it, but not allowing us to be equal and making excuses to exclude us is more offensive than the R-word to me. There are lots of ways to degrade someone with disabilities without using the R-word.

  • Tell me I don’t deserve my rights.
  • Describe people like me as a burden to the legislature.
  • Pay me less for my work
  • Tell me that I belong in an institution.

Ivanova2Many people know about, and have joined, the campaign started by Special Olympics and Best Buddies, to ‘spread the word to end the word’. The word ‘retarded’ has hurt our community, but negative attitudes about people with I/DD have hurt us more. A single word doesn’t have the power to exclude us; it’s societal attitudes that isolate us! If you say you won’t use the R-word but still support institutions, then I don’t think you really understand the message.

I don’t want to just ban a word. I want to change a mindset! I want people to see us as equals. People with I/DD are epic people, with an epic culture, and I want that culture to be celebrated. The only way to do that is to include us equally, in everything. Let’s GO BIG together and change people’s minds.

The Fight for Disability Rights Continues

Our special blogger this month is Stacy Gillett, Executive Director of The Arc of King County. Upon reflecting on the many victories that people with I/DD have enjoyed in the past 80 years, Stacy also recognizes the fight that continues today.StacyVOA

The Fight for Disability Rights Continues

The Arc of King County has the privilege of partnering every day with people who experience intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families – supporting them to live full, meaningful lives; to give voice to their needs; and to champion their perspective.

We respect and respond to individual choice as the guiding force in supporting the lives of the people we work with, believing that all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are entitled to advocate for themselves with the assurance that their desires, interests, and preferences will be respected and honored. In short, what we want for ourselves, we want for everyone.

As human citizens, all individuals should be given the opportunity to have an education, a job, access to healthcare, the right to enjoy and access their community, and to experience friendships and relationships.  Imagine not being able to communicate with your friends and family, not being able to choose when and where you want to go, or being isolated every day from enjoying your own neighborhood or a job that you love – because you need help to access every part of your environment.  For so many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, this continues to be a reality.  While most are no longer institutionalized, a number of adults with I/DD still live in isolation from relationships, are not meaningfully employed, and lack access to any real interaction outside their homes.

While we have come a long way in the last eight decades, there’s a remarkable amount of opportunity ahead in both the next year and the next decade. As we enter this new era, there are several distinct areas of advocacy and change that we are focused on driving forward. These focus areas include:

  • Facilitating natural relationships that connect people with I/DD to people and places in their communities, reducing the amount of isolation experienced by persons with I/DD and their families.
  • Continually working to be innovative and break new ground in improving how we operate our own organization to bring about change for the future.
  • Organizationally and individually, dedicating ourselves to those individuals and families who have placed their trust in us to provide quality, individualized self-directed supports.
  • Encouraging and facilitating family education and engagement as fundamental to achieving positive outcomes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Working with self-advocates to build and unleash incredible new experiences and opportunities to live, learn, work and play in the community, which benefits us all.
  • Delivering new ideas and services with life-changing improvements in how people with I/DD better access their environments, become more self-sufficient, and have a voice and choice in every aspect of their lives

We are uniquely positioned to lead in these areas given the breadth of our staff expertise and services portfolio, as well as our growing partnerships with businesses, neighborhoods, and communities. It truly is a new era at The Arc of King County — an era of incredible opportunity for us, and for the nearly 21,000 children and adults in King County who are estimated to experience a severe developmental disability, including intellectual disabilities, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and autism.

When I pause to reflect on how far we’ve come over the past few years and how much further we’ll go in the next one, I couldn’t be more excited and optimistic. We see an unprecedented amount of opportunity for the long term. We hope you will join us as we continue to move the disability rights movement forward.

Wings for Autism: What Happened Afterwards

We are so excited to have blogger, Ryan Fox, talk about his experiences after he participated in The Arc of King County’s Wings for Autism program

IMG_2152.JPGOne of my favorite books is Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. It’s about adventure, courage, and the fun of taking on new challenges. I recommend it. As a person with autism, this book also reminds me of the importance of travel. The Arc of King County is my very own Dr. Seuss—through their Wings for Autism events they support my yearning to take on new travel adventures.

I was very young when my parents started taking me places. They wanted me to adapt to new experiences and not get stuck in a too-structured life. “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,” wrote Helen Keller. We chose adventure. I rode in cars and buses, on trains and ferry boats, and even in airplanes. To this day, I’ve never had a problem with most of these modes of transportation, but something happened to me on an airplane once as we were leaving Chicago. I was very worried about turbulence and bothered by the cabin’s smell, and when the flight attendants thought I was ill, they almost asked us to get off the airplane. It scared my mom and me. Although we made it home okay, I never wanted to go on an airplane again, and nothing my family did could help me feel better. My sister tried giving me a vial of good-smelling oil to wear around my neck, but I still panicked. I tried to relax, but I was always afraid the crew would throw me off the plane. In 6th grade, after we ended up having to take a train all the way across the country to my grandmother’s funeral just so I could avoid flying, my mom decided to try getting me flying lessons. She thought maybe if I understood more about the operation of the plane and could take control of it, I could eventually be comfortable. I learned a lot about airplanes and airports through flying lessons (which I loved), but I still didn’t want to fly on a jetliner. Whenever I tried to face this fear, I still panicked.

IMG_3048.JPGOne day, we learned that the Arc of King County was sponsoring an event called Wings for Autism at SeaTac Airport. It was patterned after a program launched by the Charles River Center in Boston where a family had planned a trip to Disneyland, and when they got to the airport their autistic child had a meltdown so they had to cancel their vacation. They then created a practice day for families to rehearse going through the airport. I decided to sign up to attend the very first Wings for Autism event at SeaTac in January 2014 as a junior in college. It was a fantastic learning experience. The Arc teamed up with Alaska Airlines, Port of Seattle personnel, TSA, and others. Kids learned to patiently stand in line, go on the escalators and trains, and wait in the boarding area. The highlight was getting to board a real airplane to taxi around on the ramp without taking off. The professionals learned as much that day about how to help families as the families learned about how to travel. It was also a chance to bond with other people dealing with the same problems. I never saw so many other kids wearing big red headphones in my life! (I had occasionally worn them myself in K-12 and people made fun of me—at this event, they were normal and fine.) It was great to see everyone.

The most important thing about Wings for Autism is what happens at home afterward. Families can talk with their kids about what they learned and what it was like, review their photos and videos, and start rehearsing. All of this gives them time to prepare for their next visit to the airport for a real trip.

Wings2014_CockpitI didn’t expect that Wings for Autism day would mean so much to me. I just wanted to be at the airport and help out. But what happened was a miracle and has changed my whole life. Being invited to ride on the aircraft with no fear of being asked to deplane, I realized I didn’t have to be afraid of air travel. I practiced talking to the Alaska Airlines pilots, agents, and flight attendants and introducing myself, explaining my fears and needs. They completely understood! They gave me a fantastic idea to make a little card about autism and me. I have taken these cards on subsequent trips and always give them to the attendants and passengers sitting next to me. Sometimes people don’t know what to say, but other times they smile and nod and “get it”. They offer me extra comfort and attention while I’m on the plane. I love that! Another thing I learned—believe it or not—is that flying in First Class really helps. It’s less crowded, quieter, and more peaceful. I can get anything I need a little quicker, so overall it is much easier to relax. My mom laughed at me when I told her I learned this. She said, “Well, you are not going to be able to travel as often if you have to save up enough money for First Class.” To me, though, it’s worth it!

Within a few weeks of attending Wings for Autism, I made a real flight to visit my sister in South Dakota. I was a little nervous, but I did it. It was great. Then I went to Denver and Albuquerque. Recently, I traveled to Portland for a lesson with a famous musician. Then, for my birthday my parents gave me a trip to San Diego on Alaska Airlines. It was only for one day (because I am still practicing my hotel check-in skills and not quite ready to do an overnight solo), but I did enjoy a bus ride to downtown and lunch on the waterfront.

WingsI have now volunteered at several Wings for Autism events with the Arc. If you and your family come to the next Wings for Autism day, you will see me there, smiling and happy, ready to help you learn to fly. In the future, I would love to work in a job that contributes to everybody’s enjoyment of air travel. I can load bags, deliver parts, planes and cargo, or just help customers with special needs to enjoy their travel. Having studied Aviation Management in college (in addition to Music Performance), done internships at two airports, and knowing several people who work at SeaTac, I am ready to make a difference. I want other people with autism to feel comfortable with aviation, maybe even take flying lessons to visit smaller airports, not just giant ones. I would also love to somehow blend aviation and music to help people relax when traveling.

“Frequency of trials” is something important for autistic individuals to master new skills. The more we can practice handling a situation, the less frightening it will be. To me, this fact is exciting when I think of mastering travel—the more I do it, the better it gets. Travel is good for everybody. Now that I’ve graduated, it would be fun to start a travel club picking up where Wings for Autism day leaves off, to practice visiting hotels, taking cruises, and expanding my horizons. Oh, the places we’ll go!



Living Our Legacy: Family Members on Staff

IMG_0035In 1936, a group of parents came together to advocate on behalf of their children with developmental disabilities and started a movement that would change our community. Today, The Arc continues to be driven forward by family members who are dedicated to ensuring that their children, grandchildren, and siblings have the opportunity to live and thrive in King County. Many of our current staff, volunteers, and board members bring their personal experience as family members to the agency, ensuring that eighty years later, our legacy stays alive.

Cathy Murahashi, Rachel Nemhauser, and Marilyn Cooks each first came to The Arc as caregivers looking for advice. Now, all three are integral members of our Family Support and Systems Advocacy teams, working now as both family members and professionals in trying to help other families navigate the I/DD systems in King County.

In the mid-90’s, Cathy Murahashi joined an internet support group for parents caring for a child with Down syndrome. Seeking a community of like-minded moms, she connected with Jodi Reimer, another mom who was then the Parent to Parent coordinator at The Arc. Cathy became a Helping Parent and soon began supporting other parents when they had a new diagnosis. In 1999, Cathy met Margaret Lee Thompson, who encouraged Cathy to join the Parent Coalition and become involved with The Arc’s advocacy efforts in Olympia. A year later, Margaret Lee invited Cathy to join the King County Parent Coalition team as an assistant. Fifteen years later, Cathy remains a valued staff member, and now enjoys her current role as the Family Engagement Coordinator for the King County Parent and Family Coalition. When asked about why she has stayed with The Arc of King County for so long, Cathy stated simply, “I am fortunate to be paid to do what I love!”

In 2009, Rachel Nemhauser was referred to The Arc to locate support services for her youngest son, who has an undiagnosed developmental disability. The first person Rachel connected with was…Cathy! Soon after that first connection, Rachel also became a Helping Parent, and then became involved with a number of Arc programs as an active volunteer. Rachel ultimately joined the staff in 2015 as the Parent to Parent Coordinator, taking over the position that Cathy previously held.  Rachel noted, “I always wanted to be surrounded by a team of people who are as passionate about disability issues as I am, and The Arc is the perfect place to be”.

Marilyn Cooks also joined The Arc staff in 2015 as part of the Parent to Parent program team. Marilyn is the caregiver for her grandson who has an I/DD. She has the lived experience of raising a child with a disability: she knows about navigating the special education world, smoothly transitioning from high school to employment, and helping her grandson secure both a job coach and an independent living situation.  Armed with a wealth of knowledge about services from her previous work at DSHS as well as her personal experience navigating disability resources, Marilyn provides other caregivers with the insight and guidance they need to access services, while also relating to the very real concerns of the people who contact her.

The Arc believes that self-advocates and their caregivers are the disability community’s greatest asset. The expertise and personal experiences that these staff bring to The Arc informs our work, ensures that our recommendations are relevant, and keeps us connected to our grassroots origins. When someone calls The Arc looking for help, they know the person on the other end of the line really understands. Cathy, Rachel, Marilyn, and all of our other parents and self-advocates are helping The Arc truly LIVE OUR LEGACY! They will be featured presenters at the Open House and Annual Meeting on Saturday, January 23, sharing more of their story and their personal experiences.

This story is a part of our 2014-2015 Annual Community Report. To view the full report, click here! 

Christmas Eve at The Arc

Every year on Christmas Eve, our Supported Living participants join us at the office for a homecooked breakfast of pancakes and bacon. Can you smell it? It smells so good! Seriously mouth-watering!

I’m sure that some people come because of the tasty treats. But what really stands out for me at this annual tradition is the community of support and friendship that direct support professionals share with the people whom we serve. There is genuine laughter and good cheer all throughout the room as people enjoy each other’s company during this special time of the year.

Wherever you are during this holiday season, and whatever holiday you celebrate, our sincere wish for you is being part of a community of people who love, respect, and appreciate you. Happy holidays from everyone at The Arc of King County!


P.S. Thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers who make the tasty breakfast, and special thanks to our friends from Bergelectric who made sure that guests had a special holiday gift!