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Olympic funding: Superintendent responds to Special Olympics controversy

News Courier - 3/31/2019

March 30-- Mar. 30--As someone who has worked with Special Olympics since the 1980s, Limestone County Schools Superintendent Tom Sisk said he was in disbelief at the idea it would no longer be partially funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the Associated Press, the Special Olympics receives about 10 percent of its overall revenue from the department. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos defended her decision to remove the funding entirely from next year's budget.

"When I heard DeVos talk about not funding Special Olympics, I thought, 'Are you serious?'" Sisk said. "I could not believe it."

The superintendent said he first witnessed the impact of the Special Olympics in 1987, when he saw a 12-year-old speak for the first time after winning a medal. Two years later, he got involved with a Special Olympics organization in Virginia.

"I was so moved by the work of Special Olympics," Sisk said.

On a public post to his Facebook page Thursday, Sisk said he was "appalled" by DeVos' comments but recognized her lack of experience in education, specifically special needs education or childhood education.

"Perhaps if she actually worked with all our children she would recognize that all lives matter regardless of cognitive ability," Sisk wrote. "Perhaps if she had been on the field in Prince George, Virginia with me in 1987 she would have a different view moved by the love of parents and a child."

On Thursday, President Donald Trump told reporters he had heard about DeVos' comments and the resulting backlash.

"I have overridden my people," he said. "We're funding the Special Olympics."

Sisk said he "was very pleased" by the president's decision.

"(Not funding) was a mistake," Sisk said. "There have got to be other ways to make money without it being on the backs of disabled people."

The Limestone County Special Olympics annual track and field event is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, April 5, at Athens Stadium next to Athens Middle School. Sisk thanked Athens City Schools and the district's board members for their continued partnership and support of Special Olympics in the area.

"One of the joys of my job is getting to watch kids compete in sports," he said. "This is a whole group of children I don't get to see compete until Special Olympics."

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