Eliza Schaff was told Nov. 9 that she couldn't come back to class. Photo courtesy elizaschaaf.com

Students pull together for classmate

Eliza Schaff was told Nov. 9 that she couldn't come back to class. Photo courtesy elizaschaaf.com
Eliza Schaff was told Nov. 9 that she couldn't come back to class. Photo courtesy elizaschaaf.com

Southern Oregon University students are signing petitions in support of a student with Down syndrome forced to withdraw from a ceramics class Nov. 9.


Eliza Schaaf enrolled at SOU as a non-admitted student in early August.

“All of her friends talked about college and she wanted to go to college,” explained Deb Evans, Schaaf’s mother. “She chose SOU and we supported that decision.”

“I love learning, working with clay and I wanted to be with students my age,” Schaaf said.

Evans says she and her husband, Ron Schaaf, went to the SOU Disability and Resources Office to arrange for Evans to be her daughter’s aid in the class, an accommodation Schaaf has had throughout her high school career.

“She likes having somebody to help her when she gets stuck,” Evans said.

After a week in the course, Associate Provost Sue Walsh, Assistant Dean Vicki Purslow and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Alissa Arp met with Schaaf and her parents to discuss her learning styles and assistant needs Oct. 11.

It was suggested that Schaaf switch to an audit of the course and have an Art Major assist her in the class instead of her mother.

She attended class with her mother as her aid and completed a coil, slab and portrait project over the course of the three weeks following the meeting.

Schaaf received the letter from Arp informing her that she would be withdrawn from the class Nov. 9.

According to the letter, Schaaf displayed a substantially limited ability to engage in the work independently and intellectually, even with the help of an aid. The letter cited a visit to the Schneider Museum Oct. 4 where Schaaf asked to hold the teacher’s hand as they crossed the street and repeatedly touched museum exhibits.

The supervision Schaaf required was found to disrupt and interfere with the teaching and learning environment for the instructor and other students, a statement that fellow classmate Mollie Mustoe strongly disagrees with.

“I never received questions from administration as a member of the class,” Mustoe said. “I am wounded at how they put words in my mouth.”

Mustoe is leading the campaign petitioning for Schaaf to be allowed to finish the class. The petition has signatures of support from 15 of Schaaf’s classmates.

Mustoe also brought Schaaf’s story to the attention of the Associated Students of SOU Tuesday. Mustoe and Schaaf’s parents worked with Stevenson Union Senator Paul Jenkins and Student Advocate Kelly McAllister to pass a resolution of support for Schaaf.

“The ASSOU, hereby, express our full support for Eliza Schaaf, and her family, in her continuing endeavors for justice and fairness,” the resolution states. “We support an agreement which would allow Eliza to continue her education with the help of a reasonable accommodation.”

“I believe in myself and my right to pursue my dreams,” Schaaf said at the meeting Tuesday night.

Schaaf and her parents plan to continue their quest for their daughter’s education with the support of the ASSOU and students at SOU.

To learn more about Eliza and sign the petition, visit www.elizaschaaf.com.

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