Our Opinion: DeVos blunder only enhances Special Olympics

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First Betsy DeVos was for it, before she was against it... before she was for it again. For several days, U.S. Education Secretary DeVos, a cabinet member regularly vilified for her incompetence and insensitivity, found a new talent: inspiring across-the-aisle harmony in a Washington riven by partisan hostility. At a House hearing last Tuesday, Sec. DeVos revealed previously unplumbed depths of hard-heartedness when she proposed slashing the $17.6 million from her departmental budget traditionally spent on national Special Olympics funding.

Special Olympics, founded half a century ago by Massachusetts resident and presidential sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is an international program that seeks to improve the lives of intellectually challenged people by creating an environment of inclusiveness amid the larger population through sports and other programs. It is especially active in schools, where Special Olympics has developed a bifurcated program: One where sporting events are held by individual schools with coaches and parents as volunteers, and a 10-year-old initiative called Unified Champion Schools. The latter program focuses on three main areas, the first being the bringing together of disabled athletes with non-disabled ones, where relationships and networks formed on the field of play are carried into the school. The second is leadership training, where those with and without disabilities work on awareness-building and developing the skills and habits necessary for the fostering of inclusiveness. Finally, whole school engagement — which centers around inclusion and all students of various abilities getting to know one another — rallies those who may not be involved in specific awareness-building activities. Various Berkshire organizations, including the Pittsfield Police Department with its annual Midnight Run with the Cops Copstacle Fun Run and Walk, raise funds for the Special Olympics.

It is the Unified Champion Schools program that would have suffered from Ms. DeVos' proposed evisceration of Special Olympics funding, which is especially egregious because of its focus on raising the consciousness of the non-disabled toward their disabled brethren. In Massachusetts, the cuts would have hacked $125,000 from a total $566,000 state budget, according to Charles Hirsch, Special Olympics' state director of development for brand and marketing. Berkshire County boasts two Unified Champion Schools; Mount Greylock Regional High and Wahconah Regional High.

Fortunately — and probably for reasons related to his re-election bid — the president, who has proposed cuts to this program, cut the legs out from under Sec. DeVos (an occupational hazard for Trump cabinet members) on Thursday, declaring that he had "overridden his people" to restore the Special Olympics funding. Thereupon Ms. DeVos performed a pirouette worthy of the Bolshoi Ballet by insisting she had been against the cuts all along, and blamed the debacle on the Office of Management and Budget. If there is a silver lining to this tragicomedy, it is that Ms. DeVos' impassioned and soulless defense of the cuts raised public consciousness about the Special Olympics and may have enhanced the organization's private fundraising efforts. Meanwhile, government funding rightly continues.

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