WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. — The parents of a 12-year-old New York boy with Down syndrome are going to federal court to try to force their school district to provide him a local education in a case that experts say happens frequently across the country.
"We strongly believe that, in 2015, and after 25 years of the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, every public school should be able to accommodate a student with Down syndrome or another disability in the classroom," said Sara Hart Weir, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Down Syndrome Society. She said her organization hears of cases like Aiden Killoran's "at least once a week" throughout the United States.
On Wednesday, Aiden was prevented from attending the first day of class with his friends at Westhampton Beach Middle School on eastern Long Island, according to his father, Christian Killoran. He and his wife, Terrie, claim Aiden has been given the option of attending classes in neighbouring school districts — an alternative they find unacceptable.
They want him to be with the children with whom he attended elementary school.
"The connection with home community is extremely important for children with disabilities for the familiarity, the relationships that can be formed within the community and a sense of belonging," the Killorans say in a federal civil rights lawsuit. They are seeking a court order forcing the Westhampton Beach school district to allow Aiden to attend classes. It was not immediately clear when a judge would rule.
About 100 people protested outside the middle school on Wednesday morning, carrying signs calling for Aiden to be allowed to attend class.
Christian Killoran told The Associated Press in an interview that school officials "simply do not want to undertake the administrative headaches to deal with this special education populous. They have taken the position that the school district will not accommodate his education."
Citing state and federal privacy laws, School Superintendent Michael R. Radday said in a statement that "the district is legally prohibited from discussing individual student matters and cannot comment on pending litigation."
Stephanie McGowan, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Seton Hall University and the mother of a child with Down syndrome, said the reticence of public school districts to accommodate such children is especially prevalent in middle and high schools.
"Developmentally, as children grow the structure of the school changes and becomes more academic focused," she said. "This puts a burden on school districts to provide services."
Christian Killoran argues that his son's classmates also are being cheated because of the school's stance.
"All of the virtues and attributes that we endeavour to teach our kids — compassion, empathy, sympathy, kindness, all of those things are naturally elicited during the dynamic of interfacing with someone less fortunate than yourself," he said. "All of those typical kids are being denied of the opportunity to interface with Aiden.
"Not only is he being deprived but all of the students are being deprived."
Frank Eltman, The Associated Press