As with many previous posts, I will start today's story by cautioning you that we only know one side of a multi-faceted issue. Having a sister who is the principal of a private school, I know that while we parents can run to the media with our complaints, schools of every kind are held to a different standard, frequently unable to defend themselves publicly.
I would also remind you that I am neither an attorney nor a licensed special education advocate, so my facts are gleaned from other resources that I have found to be reliable throughout my years as a parent of unique kids and as a leader of special needs parents.
That being said, today's "winners" offer a unique opportunity for us to examine the law regarding complex kids and private schools. This is especially helpful considering the wave of popularity with School Choice.
This week finds us in the State of Texas where the parents of two girls with "invisible disabilities," that include things like ADHD, sensory processing challenges, and anxiety disorder, are suing their daughters' Catholic school. According to the parents, several attempts were made to have their daughters' school make simple accommodations for the girls to no avail. These accommodations included extra time on homework, written instructions for assignments, a "safe room" or quiet space for times of sensory overload, and a computer for the younger daughter when writing was difficult.
Despite multiple meetings with authorities on all levels of the school (teacher, principal, pastor, diocese) the parents claim that these requested accommodations were largely ignored. As a result, the two girls were failing school.
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While we don't know the other side of the story or the resources available to the Texas school, it breaks my heart to see supposedly Christian establishments treating kids with diagnoses worse than the secular world. On the flip side, I do know from my sister's experience, that sometimes private schools will openly confess to parents that they are not equipped to give challenged children the extra measure of care that they need.
So, the big question in this story is, Did this Catholic school break the law? Aren't private schools exempt from IDEA 2004 and granting IEPs? The answer is complex and nuanced. Yes, private schools ARE exempt from IDEA 2004. These schools are not required to offer IEPs for special students along with things such as occupational or speech therapy. On the other hand, these schools ARE bound by Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This prohibits discrimination against students with special needs and may require the school to make some modifications for the student under the law.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of this law suit. Situations like this one are never pretty. It seems that no one comes out a winner in the end. Feelings are hurt and disdain seems to increase. One would hope for better between those who call themselves followers of Jesus. Ultimately, it seems the law suit will expose which side is merely pretending to follow Christ in the end.
~ Barb Dittrich
RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: CLC Network (Christian Learning Center) - Working with schools, churches, & families to create inclusive communities for people at all levels of ability & disability.