A New York couple has filed a lawsuit against a Long Island school after it rejected their 12-year-old son because he has Down syndrome.
On Wednesday, Aiden Killoran was prevented from joining his siblings and friends at Westhampton Beach Middle School on the first day of class. According to the school’s policy, students with special needs are redirected to other schools in the district that have special education teachers, CBS reports.
While Aiden was offered enrollment at other institutions, his parents, Christian and Terrie Killoran, are adamant that he be allowed to join his friends from 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 said in their lawsuit.
The family claims the school’s decision is discriminatory. Aiden’s father told ABC News: “Westhampton Beach School District has never, in their entire history, ever educated an openly assessed special needs student for post-elementary education.”
In addition to the pending lawsuit, a protest was also held on Wednesday morning outside Westhampton Beach Middle School. CTV reports that about 100 people attended and called for the school to allow Aiden back in class.
Over 60 people protest at Westhampton Beach Middle School, favoring "integration" of Down syndrome child in school pic.twitter.com/3PHj9g9Fmj— Víctor Manuel Ramos (@vmramos) September 2, 2015
Sara Hart Weir, president of Washington, D.C.’s National Down Syndrome Society, says cases like Aiden’s occur more than you’d expect. According to Weir, the organization hears about these kinds of issues “at least once a week” in the U.S.
“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,” she said.
While the Killorans are claiming discrimination, Stephanie McGowan, associate dean at Seton Hall University and the mother of a child with Down syndrome, says it can be difficult for schools to provide services for kids with special needs.
“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.”
Despite this, dad Christian maintains his son has a right to attend the same school as his friends. “If you ask the community what they want, you'd find they also want Aiden included,” he said. “Everyone benefits from his empathy and kindness. We have faith in the school, teacher and staff to provide him with a great education and are committed to changing this.”
A judge ruling on the issue will take place later this week.
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