Girl with Asperger’s Syndrome supports H.B. 3393, visits legislators

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 24-May-2010

Amanda LaMunyon, an Enid girl with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism), visited the Oklahoma state Capitol today (Monday, May 24) to support House Bill 3393, the special needs scholarship bill that has bipartisan backing. LaMunyon spent her day visiting with members of the Senate, primarily Democrats.

LaMunyon is a 15-year-old constituent of state Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid, a Republican and the legislation’s sponsor in the upper chamber. “This bill won’t help me because I’ve gone to private school. But I support it to give more opportunities and freedom of choice to other children,” she said. The bill moved from the House to the Senate today, and is slated for consideration there in the next two days.

Amanda has lived her entire life in Enid. Her initial school experiences were not positive. She could, her mother remembers, “recite all the rules, but had trouble implementing them.”

Then, her condition was discerned. Amanda’s gift for artistic expression, especially painting, was notable.

A favorite teacher and the headmaster of her school encouraged her to paint. That teacher, Mrs. Brock, developed colon cancer. She asked for her favorite of Amanda’s paintings, “Winter Wonderland,” to be placed at the foot of her bed. It remained there until Mrs. Brock passed away from the illness.

The headmaster at Amanda’s school began to hang the girl’s paintings in one hall of the school. Steadily, with this encouragement, the girl’s artistry blossomed.

As Amanda grew up and her ability was known, she was regarded as more than “the rowdy girl” who had trouble sitting still. She became known as “the artist” who expressed herself in painting. She is among the best-known artists in her hometown.

Amanda came to the Capitol Building with her best friend, Chandler Steckbeck. Sherry, Amanda’s mother, accompanied the girls, who have been friends since first grade. Sherry says Chandler’s friendship was important in developing her daughter’s resilience and determination.

Amanda told CapitolBeatOK, “I have a disability. My message to others, and in support of this bill, is to not give up, to ‘keep on keepin’ on. You can turn challenge into a gift.” Amanda describes herself as a fan of show music, including “Wicked,” the Broadway musical featured Oklahoman Kristin Chenoweth. Amanda recently portrayed “Gertie” in a school production of “Oklahoma!”

One of her paintings, “Dream for Day After Day” is featured on a website promoting awareness of “Autism spectrum disorders.” Another, “Girls under the Umbrella” is featured in a recent book. Recently, she has become known not only for her paintings but also for her speaking ability and advocacy.

As for the legislation Amanda supports, after a second round in conference committee, H.B. 3393 incorporates specific provisions drawn from disability rights’ activists and state education officials. If the bill is approved, scholarships can be used for “a private school of choice for students with disabilities for whom an individualized education program (IEP) in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been developed.”

Recipients can only be someone who “spent the prior school year in attendance at a public school,” that is, a student who was “enrolled in and reported by a school district for funding purposes during the preceding school year.” In another provision, the proposed legislation states, “For purposes of continuity of education choice the scholarship shall remain in force until the student returns to a public school or graduates from high school.”

Receiving schools are limited to institutions meeting “the accreditation requirements set by the State Board of Education or another accrediting association approved” by the Board and that have reported to the Department availability of grade levels for such students. The school must also demonstrate fiscal soundness or post surety bond or letter of credit “for the amount equal to the scholarship funds.”

Participating schools must meet anti-discrimination laws, and state and local health and safety codes. Teachers at the facilities must “hold baccalaureate or higher degrees, or have at least three years of teaching experience in public or private schools, or have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in subjects taught.” Receiving schools must also comply “with all state laws relating to general regulation of private schools.”

Scholarships will be provided to parents or legal guardians who “shall restrictively endorse the warrant” to a school. The maximum scholarship amount would be “for an eligible student with disabilities” and calculated “to the local and country revenue for the school district which is chargeable in the State Aid formula, state-dedicated revenue, and state-appropriated funds.” The scholarship amount would be calculated each year by the state Board of Education.

The proposal allows 5% of the amount to be “retained by the school district as a fee for administrative services rendered.” Public school districts would not be responsible for additional costs beyond the scholarship. Further, “No liability shall arise on the part of the state or school district based on the award or use of any scholarship provided.”

House Bill 3393 is deemed “the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.” The measure passed in the House of Representatives on Friday, May 21, where state Reps. Jason Nelson, Sally Kern and Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City, and Rep. Jabar Shumate of Tulsa, are co-sponsors.