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How Cheating Hurts Those Who Really Need Help

Published in ChicagoNow, March 25, 2019

Granted, it is very unfair that rich and famous parents could bribe college officials, cheat on their children’s test scores, and create fake sports credentials to get their kids into elite colleges. The college admissions scam, Operation Varsity Blues, has dominated the news, probably because some celebrities (Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman) were caught in its web. Otherwise, gaming the system to advantage kids whose parents have money is old news.

The saddest part of cheating to get into college or go to the head of the line is that it ends up hurting children who need and deserve a helping hand. I’m thinking about this in terms of some of my grandkids, who will likely find it harder to obtain the educational accommodations they need because folks who didn’t really need them cheated.

When we took our grandkids to Disney World back in 2011, we were able to get special needs passes free of cost to go to the front of lines. This didn’t happen because we were rich. It happened because we presented legitimate doctor’s notes explaining that two of them were on the autistic spectrum and unable to wait in crowded lines and another had cystic fibrosis and could not wait in the August heat for medical reasons. Believe me, we would have happily waited in line to not have had these issues.

Fast forward a few years. These passes are no longer available because people who didn’t need them gamed the system. Some folks actually “hired” people who had disabilities or rented wheel chairs and claimed a member of their party couldn’t walk to obtain passes. Now everyone has to buy a fast-pass to go to the head of the line. When my grandkids who are on the spectrum went back to Disney with their parents, they had to shell out extra money they could not afford and strategize their visit like a battle plan to ensure the kids didn’t have to wait too long. Ditto for my grandchild with CF. If the line was too long, they passed on the ride. Thanks to cheating parents who were blessed with kids who could wait but felt entitled to cut ahead of others, my grandkids missed out.

The same is true for students who genuinely need untimed SAT and ACT tests and other accommodations to have a chance of a score on a standardized test that reflects their ability if they are not rushed. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), students with actual disabilities, who have had to overcome discrimination their entire lives, now have to fight harder to prove they deserve extra time to take tests and receive other accommodations. This is due to the large number of parents who claim their neurotypical children have a learning disability. As with the college cheating scandal, these parents have the means to buy documentation to support their claim.

People with actual disabilities who need accommodations are now questioned and denied the help they need to succeed. According to Lindsay Jones, CEO of NCLD,

“The wide-spread college admissions cheating scheme that has recently come to light is incredibly discouraging and does a serious disservice to students who have real disabilities and rely on accommodations in school. The allegations state that families encouraged their children to fake a disability to get accommodations that would allow them to cheat on high stakes tests to gain college admission. This alleged gross misuse of accommodations to facilitate cheating should not be used to hurt individuals who have real disabilities and rely on these civil rights protections to succeed.”

Finally, there is the sad fact that, for every undeserving child of privilege whose parents cheated and bribed college officials to get them into a good school, there is a genuinely deserving student who was denied admission. For every child who gains admission because she is a legacy with a parent who made an enormous donation, there is a genuinely deserving student who was denied admission. And for every able child who takes advantage of accommodations intended for students with disabilities, there is deserving student who has worked hard to live with an actual disability who may be denied the accommodations she needs to succeed.

Lori Laughlin’s daughter, YouTube sensation Olivia Jade, has been quoted as saying,

“I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend but I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying… I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”

Olivia Jade, you should feel pretty badly about taking a legitimate student’s place as USC. You are a privileged, highly successful beauty channel YouTube star (whatever that is) of very wealthy parents for whom attending USC is just something else to blather about. You proudly claimed that you rarely attended high school. Have the decency to admit that you and your mother did something reprehensible and fund an education for a student who does care about school but lacks the ability to pay.

To all of the parents who went to the front of the line at Disney by claiming their children had disabilities, please think about the consequences for kids like my grandchildren who can’t really enjoy that park anymore. And to the parents who cheat the system by falsely claiming their kids have ADD or learning disabilities, thanks for making it so much harder for kids like my grandchildren to get the accommodations they really deserve. Our family would happily change places with yours.

In the end, cheating to gain accommodations or advantages that others truly need and deserve is like folks who use someone else’s handicapped sticker to obtain a close parking space. I have often wondered how they feel when they see someone using a walker forced to navigate a long distance because they took the spot designated for her. They should feel guilty and ashamed, but they probably feel entitled.


by Laurie Levy
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