School is supposed to be a nurturing haven of learning and a refuge of safety.
Sadly, our education lawyers know this is not always the case. It's troubling enough when children are cut down by their peers. But when it comes from teachers, administrators and bus drivers, it can be devastating.
Parents in New York's Garden City have filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging the public school system has practiced widespread discrimination against disabled children. It is one of a number of similar cases cropping up across the country.
In this case, three mothers say the district treats children who have autism like second-class citizens.
In one case, a former female student with a neurological disorder who is able to communicate with the assistance of a machine, was allegedly told by public school administrators that she would not be able to finish high school. Her mother refused to accept that answer. She had to fight for it, but her daughter did eventually graduate high school, and is now receiving a college education.
By federal law, the public education system must provide an education to all students - regardless of the unique challenges they face. However, these mothers say when it comes to disabled children, the school does not make equal education a priority.
As our education lawyers well know, the process for these parents often involves an ongoing string of meetings and hearings. It's wise in these cases to bring an advocate with you, to ensure your child is receiving the best possible education - and that the school is abiding by the law.
The mothers in this case speculate that the schools are reticent to provide equal education for their kids because their children's test scores, like all other students, are tied to overall school ratings and therefore state and federal dollars.
That doesn't make it acceptable.
Down in Florida, another federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a young female student who suffered from a neuromuscular disorder that made it difficult to sit up straight. She died on a school bus after suffocating; the lawsuit indicates bus employees failed to take action or even call 911. Instead, they reportedly followed "protocol" by trying to reach a supervisor. The lawsuit alleges a series of deaths of disabled children within the district dating back to 1999, revealing a pattern of disregard for the needs of disabled children.
In another case out of a Chicago suburb, parents there are suing the school district alleging that a school bus aide slapped an autistic male student. Parents might never have known of the incident had they not put a camera on his backpack when they noticed he seemed afraid to board the bus.
On that tape, the aide reportedly began yelling at the boy to get his hands out of his pocket, and then began slapping and hitting the child and threatened to break his fingers.
No other employee on the bus attempted to step in and stop the abuse, nor was it ever reported to the aide's superiors.
If you believe your special needs child is being discriminated against or abused, call our experienced attorneys for advice on how to proceed.
The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides education litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.
Lawsuit: Garden City Schools Discriminate Against Special Needs Students, Feb. 25, 2013, Staff Report, CBS New York
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