“Just the facts, ma’am.” That’s what Joe Friday used to say. I’ve often thought of that when doing my daily job as a lawyer. I get calls on cases and that’s what I want to hear. So, in the spirit of Joe Friday, I’m going to give you “just the facts” showing my son was discriminated against based on autism yesterday.
We live in an isolated country area.
We work in a nice suburb outside the capitol of the State of California.
The school in the town we live in goes from K-3rd grade. Then, the children get bussed five miles further from home, suburb, city. High school is 15 more miles yet.
Because I work closer to the City, my son attended kindergarten in the suburb where I work. It is a private school. He just graduated.
The school classes go no higher than kindergarten. All children must go to a new school for first grade.
I’m looking for a school that is 1st-8th grades, integrated and close to my work. Otherwise, I give up work and lose my ABA company, which does not have tutors for the remote location where we live.
In mid-March, we signed up for this fall’s first grade class at a nearby private Christian school. We are on the waiting list.
As a back up plan, I called a school which is near our workplace and advertises a teacher to student ratio (12:1) for K-8 grades. When I called, last week, it was about 3 p.m. The director of admissions said she just returned from a field trip and would have to call me “right back”. She got my name and number. Before we hung up, I told her my son was autistic and going into first grade.
She did not call back.
Yesterday, I called again.
I was placed on hold for over three minutes.
Finally, the same woman picked up the phone. In summary, this is what she said:
“I ran your circumstances past our Assistant Director, Andrea, as much as I know them, [all she knew was 1st grade and autism- that’s it] and we are unable to place your child at our school. I don’t know what school district you are in, but you should contact them, get an IEP, and you can get services for your child there but our school is not set up to accommodate children with special needs.”
(Remember, just the facts. You all know my “reaction.” It’s the same as yours. And if you aren’t familiar with the blog and my knowledge with IEPs, I direct you to click here)
I said that I found that interesting because I was not asking the school to provide me with special services. I already have a full-time tutor who attends class with my son to meet his needs. I was just looking for educational placement for him for first grade.
This is what she said:
“And that’s the thing. The way we teach our children, we have a lead teacher and an aide and we cannot accommodate any other adults in the classroom, as it would disrupt the other childrens’ ability to learn.” [“emphasis added” by me].
My response was this:
“I’ll have to think things over, because you just discriminated against my child based on his disability.”
She said “OH NO, we’re not discriminating…” but that was the end of the conversation. I hung up. I’d had enough.
So, just there is. Just the facts, my friends. Now…
What if my son were of “other than Caucasian” descent (which he is)? Would they say his skin color would “disrupt the other students’ ability to learn”?
What if he was visually, auditorily, or physically impaired? Would a service dog, an interpreter, or a wheelchair also disrupt the other students “ability to learn”? Do you see how blatant discrimination is?
The students who attend this school, and schools like it all over the country, are being taught in a “sterile” environment. They interact with their fully-abled, 100 percent neurotypical “peers”. They don’t learn about tolerance, accommodation, cooperation, acceptance, patience, and differences from the people who could teach it best.
According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 77 million students (click here for that reference) in the United States schools as of October 2009. Ten percent of those attend private schools according to this. That’s between 5.5 and 7.7 million students that potentially could be isolated from special needs children at schools.
What kind of society does that foster? What kind of future for our kids? To me, that is wrong no matter what the law says.
My husband and I are lawyers. But normally, we doemployment discrimination cases for a living not education or special needs law. Our wonderful associate attorney, Kat, knew my heart yesterday when I was shaken. Kat found the law supporting the concept that no one should be subjected to discrimination like this. And once that was found, I released a letter to that school that ended like this:
“You will hear from me again. It will not be in the form of a letter, however. You cannot unring the bell at this point. Discrimination has occurred. While I would not now put my son in your school, I cannot let the discrimination go. That would be a disservice to anyone else who walks in my footsteps, and stumbles upon your school as a potential viability for their child. I will not let others be treated this way.”
Someone might say they messed with the wrong autism parents. I think they messed with the right ones.
In the scheme of things, this school will not break or make any aspect of our son’s life. Does it matter? Of course it does. We could let it go. But I won’t do that. This one is not just for our son. It’s for all of us. It’s for what is right. Every piece counts. If I don’t fight now, when? What do you think?