Catholic Coalition for Special Education Helps Two Children with Down Syndrome Attend Catholic School

This article was contributed by Andrea Kopp, NCEA Educational Resource Manager and Kathy Dempsey of Catholic Coalition for Special Education. 

Press Release: August 26, 2016

Contact: Kathy Dempsey for CCSE: 202-359-4379 or


(Kensington, Maryland) – Embracing change and making time to get it right are not easy, but when it comes to educating and nurturing the whole child – who also has an intellectual disability – they are non-negotiable.

St. Louis School in Clarksville, Maryland has worked with the Catholic Coalition for Special Education (CCSE) for nearly a year to prepare the administration, faculty and school community to welcome two new students this school year, both of whom have Down syndrome.  In addition to providing free technical assistance, guidance and workshops, CCSE is awarding St. Louis with a grant to be used toward the salaries of one special education teacher and one paraprofessional in the establishment of its new Louis IX Program for the 2016-2017 school year.

“The Louis IX Program, a program dedicated to providing a Catholic education to children with Down syndrome who are siblings of current St. Louis students, is an expression of our commitment to Catholic values that can transform our world,” said St. Louis School Principal Terry Weiss. “I am excited to begin this initiative and am confident the students the program serves will be a blessing to our entire community.  St. Louis School couldn’t have made this vision a reality without the Catholic Coalition for Special Education’s technical assistance and financial support.”

“I am happy to commend Principal Weiss and the faculty of St. Louis for taking a whole year to lay the foundation and plan well for this new program that will serve students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The entire school community took part in a year of discernment and once they made the decision, they have not wavered,” said CCSE President and Founder Francesca Pellegrino.

“After participating in a faculty-wide workshop at St. Louis, what struck me is that they all are embracing this program fully. They are celebrating this new chapter and very excited to be an inclusive education school.  I like the enthusiasm with which they are proceeding and welcoming the students, and I hope that their contagious enthusiasm will inspire other schools to open their doors to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities,” said Pellegrino.

CCSE works to engage and encourage Catholic schools and archdioceses to educate children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms alongside their peers.

Schools are encouraged to apply for Technical Assistance Visits or Grants for help in raising disability awareness among the school and parish community, establishing a peer mentoring program, guidance in creating new policies on grading or standards, assistance in implementing appropriate modifications, and more. CCSE’s technical assistance helps ensure that schools are equipped with the skills and tools they need to set a solid foundation for long lasting programs.  It is also a way for school educators and administrators who are just at the beginning of this journey to network with more experienced professionals.

Many Catholic schools would like to serve all their families and educate all their children, but don’t think they have the resources or staff to educate students with developmental or intellectual disabilities.  For the past eleven years, CCSE has been there to provide professional development, technical assistance, public awareness, family support and to help fill the funding gap at schools, granting over $800,000 to 27 schools in seven Maryland counties with  more schools to be revealed on September 25 at the Grant Awards Ceremony & Fall Family Festival.

Through CCSE’s Believe in Me! Program, Catholic schools located in Washington, D.C. or Maryland may receive seed grants to expand or create sustainable programs enrolling two or more students with cognitive disabilities.  Funding may be used to hire and train special educators, purchase equipment and materials, or provide appropriate accommodations and modifications to the curriculum.

CCSE also provides scholarships to Catholic school teachers to attend professional development and training classes.

The mission of the Catholic Coalition for Special Education is to ensure that children with special needs are able to attend and receive an appropriate education in their local Catholic elementary schools and high schools. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI “no child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.” CCSE provides grants and technical assistance to help Catholic schools in Washington, D.C. and Maryland achieve this goal.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit St. Louis School in Clarksville, Maryland for their first day of school.  It is always exciting to see the children’s enthusiasm and excitement in being reunited with old friends and meeting their new teachers, but this particular first day of school was even more special.  The foyer of St. Louis school was filled with visitors and parents to help welcome two new students, both of whom have Down Syndrome.  Kathryn Rosewag, 1st grade and Ory Docal 3rd grade were accompanied by their families to meet Archbishop William Lori and Superintendent Dr. Barbara Edmondson of the Archdiocese of Baltimore along with representatives from the Catholic Coalition for Special Education.

Both families had older children who attended St. Louis School.  Maddie Roswag, Kathryn’s mother said, “From the beginning we wanted all of the children to go to Catholic school together.  Kathryn was a new project for the school, but they really worked hard and have an amazing program set up.  I think its going to be a wonderful experience.

Debbie and Orlando Docal started talking to Principal Terry Weiss before Ory was born about the possibility of serving students with Down Syndrome.  “We made the decision to start with public school because at the time St. Louis didn’t have the resources.  But as soon as Ory started public school I felt a disconnect.  My husband and I went to Catholic School.  Our daughters went to school here.  We just wanted Ory to have same experience.

It’s a wonderful experience to have that faith based education.  Unless you’ve had both, you don’t realize the difference a Catholic education makes.– Debbie Docal

Both parents praised Principal Terry Weiss for her openness to serving exceptional learners and her willingness to work with CCSE to visit schools, train staff and help prepare the school community to receive its newest students.  It was certainly an honor for me to be part of such a wonderful day for St. Louis School and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

To find out more about CCSE and the grant program that enabled Kathryn and Ory to attend St. Louis School contact Kathy Dempsey at