Welcoming Children with Disabilities in Lutheran Schools

It’s Lutheran Schools Week! A teacher friend of mine describes this as a time to celebrate Lutheran schools—for each school to remember its connection to other Lutheran schools around the country and across the globe. It is a time to reflect and focus on the mission of Lutheran schools to serve people. So what does that mission mean for children with disabilities, and how might it apply? Is there room for children with developmental disabilities in a Lutheran school setting?

The Love of Christ in Lutheran Schools

Recently, my husband and I agreed that we wanted our daughter who has Down syndrome immersed in what we believe, teach, and confess as Lutherans in a faith-centered school setting built on the foundation of God’s Word. So here we find ourselves.*

Well. Technically, we find ourselves in a gap year from our daughter’s educational adventures (due to the intricacies of remote education and developmental disabilities), but here is where we will find ourselves in the near future: seeking a Lutheran school that fits our daughter’s needs. 

I suppose it goes a bit further for us than wanting only to participate in a school setting that we find doctrinally sound. We want our daughter to know the unwavering love of Christ through His people—through her peers and the servant hearts of those who teach in Lutheran schools. I know many Lutheran teachers and staff members (current and retired!). And I know how selfless, kind, and capable you all are. You are an absolute blessing. 

Moreover, I have known Lutheran schools to be flexible, inclusive, and even sacrificial in loving their students. As far as they can, they want to work with diverse families, which, as the parent of a child with disabilities, is the most crucial requirement I have. I have even heard stories of some Lutheran schools making excellent creative adaptations to accommodate students such as my daughter, which is especially good to know. 

We’re All Called to Love and Serve Our Neighbors

The theme of Lutheran Schools Week this year is “Sent to Serve.” What better group of people is there to serve, and what group of people could use more humble, loving service than those with developmental challenges? What better group of people could there be to teach typical students how to help others, no matter the differences that may lie between them? I want that for my daughter. I want her to be blessed by students and teachers in a Lutheran school who want to love and befriend a fellow sister in Christ. And I want her to bless other students by giving them in-depth exposure to someone who is, yes, different—but no less valuable or worthy of care in God’s eyes. I want her to serve others by showing the incredible, unfiltered love she has for her friends. 

I’m pretty excited about the possibilities ahead of us. As with every aspect of our daughter’s life, my husband and I know that we must keep our expectations fluid and our options broad. But we are hopeful that transitioning into a Lutheran school will be relatively painless and uplifting for everyone involved.

Sometimes it is difficult to trust others with your child when your child has special needs—when you are his or her number-one advocate. I know it has been for me. But I also know I do not have to worry about my daughter with fellow members of the Body of Christ, who are sent to serve all of His unique children.

So is there room for children with disabilities in a Lutheran school setting? Yes! I know so many of our schools would give an enthusiastic yes. And I know that they would gladly do everything they could to make adjustments for such students—modifying curriculum and instruction or implementing adaptive PE or the like—and would welcome any such student with open arms. 

* Full disclosure: until this year, my pastor-husband and I had sent our daughter to public school. The public-school route is a somewhat unusual choice for the family of a Lutheran pastor in a region that is thick with Lutheran school options. There was, of course, good reason for this: here in St. Louis, there is an excellent—and I do mean excellent—special school district for children with disabilities. During our daughter’s time in public school, her teachers were some of the best, most dedicated I’d ever met, and the services available to our child went above and beyond our expectations. I’m so grateful for our time there and for how intentionally this system functions. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade our time there for anything.

Celebrate National Lutheran Schools Week with a free coloring page for students (and teachers alike).

Download Coloring Page

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Written by

Kelly Nava

Kelly is a Navy chaplain’s wife and a mama of two. She holds a BA with a double major in English and theatre from Concordia University in Irvine, California (2006) and an MA in teaching: speech and theatre from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri (2008). Kelly is a freelance copyeditor, a sometimes-writer, an aficionado of life’s simple pleasures, and a self-professed universal stick in the vein of G. K. Chesterton’s writings.

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