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Students With Disabilities Speak Out

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At the Youth Leadership Forum sponsored by the State Board for People with Disabilities, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell opened the event, by encouraging student delegates — all who have disabilities — to hold their elected officials accountable.

High School senior Jonathan Leonard, from Northern Virginia, was born two months premature, and as a result, has a rare disability that causes a speech impediment and other physical and mental problems. But still, he maintains a 3.0 grade point average. He says his biggest challenge has been other students and faculty.

"I would like to see public schools in Virginia to continue to receive funding to support students with disabilities against bullying and teasing," says McDonnell.

From Southside, High School junior Alexis Smith says she's had many challenges over the years, but wishes getting teachers to read her individualized education plan didn't have to be one of them. Smith offered a long list of recommendations, which caught the attention of Petersburg Delegate Roslyn Dance.

"You're right that there are no barriers to your learning," says Dance. "I'm very, very, impressed with what you have, and I think that's something that should be shared beyond just this forum."

Several lawmakers drove to Richmond to hear their constituents concerns for the purpose of crafting legislation. Some lawmakers also say there could be opportunities for these students to be mentored into one day becoming lawmakers themselves.

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