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Lawmakers screen ‘Mr Connolly has ALS’ in Washington

  • Concord High School principal Gene Connolly at the last assembly of the year. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Dan Habib, left, Ally Connolly, center, and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster at a panel Monday in Washington following a screening of "Mr. Connolly has ALS" Dan Habib—Courtesy



Monitor staff
Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Watching his son, Samuel, and then-Concord High principal Gene Connolly communicate through their respective electronic speaking devices, filmmaker Dan Habib got the idea to make a film that would chronicle Connolly’s last year at the school and pay tribute to his legacy – one defined, in large part, on inclusion.

The result, Mr. Connolly has ALS, featured conversations between the retiring administrator and his students about his terminal neurodegenerative disease, his life, his beliefs and his hopes. It premiered in Concord in May, and on Monday, it also waded into the national healthcare debate, with a screening organized in Washington by Second Congressional District Rep. Annie Kuster, a Democrat.

“The type of support that is under threat would undermine Gene’s legacy – would undermine an inclusive school and an inclusive community,” Habib said.

Kuster, along with New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, also Democrats, who also helped organize Monday’s event, have seized on special education as a key issue in their opposition to Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans proposals to replace Obamacare – the latest iteration of which collapsed Monday night with two new Republican defections in the Senate – have included plans to significantly restructure Medicaid. Schools receive billions in Medicaid reimbursements a year to help defray the costs of medical services delivered on campus to poor students and students with disabilities.

The entitlement program, which currently reimburses, at least in part, all eligible expenses, would have been converted to a per-capita capped program under Republican proposals. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated the latest plan would cut Medicaid spending by an estimated $772 billion over ten years.

The bill wouldn’t have specifically cut special education dollars. But disability rights and public school advocates have said that with fewer Medicaid dollars, states would be forced to ration funds to schools or cut eligibility entirely.

Habib’s son Samuel, a Concord High student, has cerebral palsy. Habib said the kinds of services that Medicaid helps pay for – like speech-language pathologists – help Samuel stay in general education classrooms and on track to graduate.

“This is not theoretical to us. This would have had a major and devastating effect on our lives,” Habib said.

New Hampshire schools received over $29 million from Medicaid in 2016. Next year, Concord schools are budgeting $19.5 million for special education, and are expecting $1.15 million in Medicaid reimbursements.

Ally Connolly, Gene Connolly’s daughter – and a teacher at the Christa McAuliffe School in Concord – also attended Monday’s event to talk about her experience with inclusion in her fourth-grade class.

“It takes a lot of people to make that work – whether it’s occupational therapists, or speech therapists,” she said. “That to me is important, and that’s funded by Medicaid.”

She also read a statement from her father, who can no longer travel, at the event. In it, he said that when students with a range of ability work together, they develop skills that make them “more emphathic, more understanding, more well-rounded citizens.”

“I truly believe that our public schools are the space where we have to be pushing for inclusion. That by pushing for inclusion in this space it ripples out into our communities and into our world,” he said.

 

 

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)