Discriminating Against Students with Disabilities
By Jacque Salomon
I was thrilled when I got a call from ASU Preparatory Academy’s Polytechnic campus, notifying me that my sons had been selected from the lottery and were now invited to enroll. I immediately withdrew them from the charter school they were attending and went to ASU Preparatory Academy to begin the enrollment process.
While there, I dropped off my sons’ Individualized Education Program, which detailed their special education needs and the services the school was required to provide. When I got home, there was a message on my answering machine. It was someone from ASU Preparatory Academy calling to let me know I couldn’t enroll my sons after all because the school no longer had room for students with special education needs.
I called the school back, thinking there must be some sort of misunderstanding. But they kept telling me the same thing. Their only solution was to place my sons back on the waiting list and to call me when the school had room for my sons. I felt the school discriminated against my sons because of their special education needs, so I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in January 2012.
I argued in my complaint that ASU Preparatory Academy discriminated against my sons on the basis of disability. A few weeks later, I got a letter from the OCR notifying me they would investigate whether the school violated Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects the rights of students with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education.
It wasn’t until about eight months later that the school voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement. By then, I had already enrolled my children at their old school. Though ASU Preparatory Academy didn’t admit fault, it agreed to make changes recommended by the OCR to correct the issue.
The school agreed to keep track of students who leave halfway through the school year and to document whether they have disabilities and received special education and services. The school also agreed to document the academic needs of prospective students who are on the waiting list for mid-year admission and whether they ultimately attended the school. If the prospective students did not ultimately attend, the school was asked to explain why. This allows the OCR to monitor the school’s practices to ensure the school isn’t discriminating against students with disabilities.
As a parent of students with disabilities, I felt I had a duty to speak up for my children—and I’m glad I did.