Schools Discriminates Based on Autism

As many of you are already aware of Elliott was barred from attending his school this year because he is a spectrum child. Elliott needs no special services and would also not need an IEP. However, the school is refusing to allow him to attend simply because Autism is attached to him. The real kicker is that he attended all last year and did very well. His teachers all loved him and he had tons of friends. Elliott is not socially awkward or does he have any real behavioral issues that would interfere with class.

So why refuse to allow him to come back this year? This is the question that really has me frustrated. Elliott had Aspergers all last year and no one had a problem with it. The other question I have is why would a school accept the Autism Scholarship and then not accept kids with Autism? Is it just me of does this seem counter intuitive?

I will say that this is a private, Catholic based school and so they are able to pick and choose their students. However, simply because they can legally do something, doesn’t mean they are ethically or morally in the right. Granted, not every school is equipped to handle every special needs child and honestly, we can’t expect them to. With that said, refusing to educate a child simply and solely because they fall onto the Autism Spectrum, to me, is discrimination.

I grew up in the Catholic church and had a Catholic education all the way through college. I was taught morals and ethics that, while not shaping my life, did serve as a guide. That guide is telling me just how wrong this is.

I’m simply taken aback by the fact that a Catholic school that is built around the same morals and ethics that I was taught when I was a kid would do this. However, not only did they do this but they aren’t even trying to hide what they are doing. This is excerpt of the email we received. That’s right we didn’t even value Elliott enough to make a simple phone call or tell us in person.

I have removed any identifying information from the following excerpt. I’m not sure of the direction I’m going to go in with this so I keeping the identity confidential for now. I’m being very careful to only share my first hand account here. There are many other disturbing pasts to this story but I have not personally witnessed some of them. I’m well within my rights to share my personal experience here and if I decide to take a more aggressive approach I will release more information.

 

“Hi Lizzie and Rob,

I received you email today, and appeciate the communication.  @#*$&%^$* will be talking with you further.  As we professionally examined the needs of Elliot, as we did another potential student with a high functional ability on the spectrum , we believe that we are not able to provide for the needs of these gifted students. While I would love to have more students, the ethical integrity of accepting a student that we cannot serve leaves us with very few options and compromises the integrity of the school.  As I look to the future I intend to address the special needs of our potential students, however at this time we are not prepared to say to you with integrity that we could properly serve Elliot.

I know that this decision is not what you had hoped for, but it is one that we believe as an educational institution, and as the pastoral arm of the church , that to do otherwise is to compromise the integrity of both.

 

Sincerely yours……………….”

 

This letter makes no sense because Elliott DOES NOT need any special considerations. What he does need is normalcy and typical peers. Sure Elliott doesn’t like certain textures of foods and has his favorite numbers but what harm would that be? It wasn’t a problem last year at all. So why now? Not only why now but why wait until the week before school starts to tell us? I mean they actually sent us the welcome packet with the supply list and everything.

We have yet to receive a returned phone call from the principle either. That was supposed to occur this past Thursday.

To be completely honest, I don’t think they would have even told us if we hadn’t kept trying to follow up. You know, the more I think about what they have done to Elliott the angrier I get. Elliott misses his friends and can’t wait to see them again. How am I supposed to deal with that?

Lizze and I have talked about it and have decided that even if they were to allow him to attend, we no longer want him in a school that not only stereotypes and arguably discriminates against children with Autism but also turns their backs on them as well. What kind of message are they sending to the children they do allow to attend? The message they are sending is one that says “those that are different need not apply”.

What am I supposed to tell Elliott? I can’t tell him that the school he loves won’t allow him to come back this year because he’s different.

The question I have is, what now? Do I allow this to go unaddressed or to I take a stand? Even if Elliott never attends this school, what they are doing is not right. This kind of ignorance is something that cannot be allowed to grow. I have made every attempt to educate the educators about Autism and how every child is different. I have explained that not every child with Autism needs special services and Elliott is the poster child for this statement. However, my attempts have fallen on deaf ears. The school is more concerned about their appearance then they are about the mission they have been charged with.

I have been contacted by a few Autistic adults and they share my frustration. I have also heard from many special needs parents as well as other educators that share the same feelings. Should I let this go? Should I simply “turn the other cheek” and allow this to happen to another family? It’s not like my plate isn’t already full as it is. However, my son was dealt a great injustice and every single ounce of who I am wants to pick this battle and shine the light on what they are doing and how they are doing it. The other part of me doesn’t want Elliott to ever feel like there is something wrong with him and so walking away might be the best approach.

I am asking for advice and guidance here. This is something that really effects everyone in the Autism community. We have to counter this type of prejudice and help people to understand exactly what spectrum means.

Thanks for helping me out with this. I’m extremely angry and I want to do the right thing. However, the right thing to do is not entirely clear. Not to sound to cheeky but as one of my reader friends pointed out, “What would Jesus do? ”

UPDATE: My other thought is that this is related to money. I can’t cover the outrageous tuition and the school was working with us and for that I’m very grateful. However, when I met with the person in charge in July, I was assured that tuition was not a concern and neither was our ability to actively participate in the parish. I specifically asked this because these were big concerns of mine. We would love to be able to do more but with all we have going on, our ability is somewhat limited. 

I was told that these were considered separate issues and have no bearing on Elliott’s ability to attend the school. They would love to have us be more active but they would never turn a child away for financial reasons. 

If money was an issue, I would certainly understand. If that ended up being an obstacle then that would have been my fault. I would have understood that. However, they have clearly stated that money is not an issue. I only have their word to go on and they say money is not a problem.

 

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Rob Gorski
Father to 3 boys with #Autism, 1 with Fragile Health. Award winning blogger, techy and advocate. #AutismDad @GuardianLocate
Rob Gorski

Rob Gorski

Father to 3 boys with #Autism, 1 with Fragile Health. Award winning blogger, techy and advocate. #AutismDad @GuardianLocate

0 thoughts on “Schools Discriminates Based on Autism

  • September 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm
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    Thank you everyone. Nothing at all happened between the end of last year and now, at least that I’m aware of. The school says they are trying to rebuild their reputation and so they want to take kids they KNOW they can handle. Elliott didn’t have a single problem last year and his teachers loved him. 

    While not allowing him to return based solely on a diagnosis that existed during the first year he was there and not on who he actually is upsets me, I can deal with that. The way they handled it and their blanket approach to dealing with kids on the spectrum is what really frustrates me. 
    Elliott should be granted or denied entrance to this school based on the merits of who he is and not based soley on label. 
    Elliott just started at his new school and he loves it. Thanks everyone for all the support.

    Reply
  • August 29, 2011 at 5:00 am
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      The issue isn’t on the legality of it all.  However, because it IS a private school this does make it a double edged sword.  They have every right to refuse a student, however how will affect their standing when it comes to morality? How can you lie to a parent and say the tuition is not an issue and yet have it become an issue…which wasn’t supposed to be.  If it’s not a financial situation then what’s the problem? Can the school deal with the backlash for denying a child diagnosed with autism when there’s a scholarship for it?  I don’t see how that makes any sense at all and if this school had ANY common sense they would use this (not to make “using” sound bad) as an example that autistic children are capable.  If not financially are they afraid of accepting him back?  What’s the big deal?  I would say to write to your local diocese, explain to him what happened.  The church I’m assuming helps those in need, why not an autistic child.  This makes no sense to me.  Write to the diocese, go up the chain of authority and see if you can get anyone to help you.  If you had been told it isn’t an issue then it shouldn’t be any issue at all, but it is.  There’s a problem with that.

    @Yoru_Kendo@xanga – Why wouldn’t they?  If anything they should be happy to support him.  They

    do

     have an Autism Scholarship.  There’s some sort of irony here…

    Reply
  • August 29, 2011 at 2:26 am
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    Their school ,their right to choose. I would think that you would be grateful to know that they didn’t want to support your child before going into a school year and money was exchanged. Saves you a lot of hassle. 

    Reply
  • August 28, 2011 at 6:24 pm
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    Someone on my high school reunion listserv expressed her situation and also made a YouTube video, she’s at a loss of what to do, this seemed like a good place to share as you might be able to get this out:



    edit: I’ve never even heard of autisable.com before, just came across this entry somehow, not sure how. I didn’t really have anything to say, heart goes out to you, but it did remind me of this 1 person’s request.

    Reply
  • August 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm
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    I am so sorry to hear what they are doing to you! It’s so wrong in many ways! As the mom of a newly diagnosed autistic 4 year old, I have an idea of where you are coming from! My daughter starts school in September and I am very worried, about what they will say, as she was diagnosed AFTER our initial meetings with the school! I wish you the best of luck in this!!! I hope you get things worked out!!! 

    Reply
  • August 28, 2011 at 2:08 am
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    Have you talked to the teachers? First, promise that you won’t get mad over the answer, and ask if there were any difficulties you were not told about from last year.

    Reply
  • August 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm
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    Reply
  • August 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm
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    @lifeonacitybusem4@xanga – I agree, there are always two sides to a story. I come from generations of public and private school teachers, and I think parents seriously underestimate the difficulties teachers have with perfectly “normal” kids. This up and coming generation of entitlement makes my stomach roil…all these kids who have had iPhones since age 9 and think they deserve a car at 16, and a destination vacation every spring break are pathetic. All that being said, I cannot just go on one person’s word as to why a school rejected a kid. Trust me that school doesn’t want to be sued anymore than you want to go through the process of suing them. 

    Reply
  • August 27, 2011 at 9:30 am
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    What happened at the end of last year or the beginning of this year that made the difference?  Something must have touched off their decision in the first place.  Was he tested for the first time?  Diagnosed for the first time?  It’s hard to get a grip on this situation without knowing the catalyst for the change.  And also, re: the tuition, it’s hard to press forward on a legal/advocacy issue if you are unable to pay for the services you feel you’re being wrongly denied.  I hear what you’re saying about being assured $ isn’t an issue.  But if there are two kids at issue and one pays tuition and works in the parish and donates money to the new gymnasium and the other kid’s family can’t pay the tuition or volunteer…around here it’s an easy decision who gets in and who doesn’t.

    Reply
  • August 27, 2011 at 8:08 am
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    Sorry but you need to put your child in another school. Private schools really do not have to take anyone they do not want to.But more importantly why would you put your autistic child in a school where he is not wanted. Also you do not know what kid of supports and help he will need in the future and the district is not required to supply it unless you go to public school. BTW why isn’t your hcild getting speech therapy, OT, social skills training, etc. to name just a few things the schools are supposed to supply for your child. Never mind the educational supports and executive functioning support in math, English (pragmatics, writing, inferential) and abstract reasoning which he will encounter as the curriculum gets harder.This is part and parcel of educating an autistic child, and yes especially one with aspergers. You need to take your child to the local school district. Put him in class. Tell them he has special needs and let them do an analysis of what his needs really happen to be and let them give him the support and help he will need. I would take this as a blessing in disguise and get on with your life. Oh and yes i was told the same thing with my children (albeit with Jewish schools) and it was the best thing that ever happened for my children.

    Reply
  • August 27, 2011 at 7:37 am
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    Maybe their concerns are legitimate and you are underestimating his needs at school.  Just a thought.

    Reply
  • August 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm
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    I’m new here, so I don’t know Elliot’s age or ability, but I think you need to let him know as soon as possible that he will not be attending this school. The transition to a new school will be difficult, so he’s going to need as much time as you can give him to get used to the idea.

    As for the school, I think you are right that you don’t want to send Elliot to a school that might treat him badly. Given the experience you had last year, it’s clear to me that this has nothing to do with the teachers. Unfortunately, the administration of a school sets the tone for everything that goes on in the school and this administration has made their position clear. Many years ago, before we had a diagnosis, my son with Asperger’s was mistreated by an unsympathetic teacher and the director of the private school he was attending. When I pulled him from the school, they had the temerity to insist that I pay the tuition for the remainder of the school year. Instead, I wrote a letter to the school’s board of directors, explaining the circumstances, and I was released from the contract. I found a public school with a class for children with behavioral issues and my son quickly became the star pupil in the class.
    I know that I had a case that could have been pursued, but I also know that court battles in such instances can be draining, not only financially, but emotionally. I chose to focus my energies on helping my son and his younger brother succeed, rather than on fighting a long and protracted battle that would do us little good, even if it might someday benefit someone else. As with so much in life for Aspie parents and children, we need to pick our battles.

    Reply
  • August 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm
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    Whoa!  What they are doing to you is totally wrong!  How about sending a strongly worded letter on law firm letterhead?  You don’t have to send him there if you don’t want, but it should be your choice, not theirs.  Ask them – do they turn away students of different races?  Turning away a disabled student is the same thing. 

    Even if you don’t send him there, make a stink.  Other parents need to know what is going on as well.  Have you spoken to the parish priest?  He could probably talk some sense into the principal. 

    Reply
  • August 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm
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    If you are able (emotionally and financially) to fight this, then please do. If your son does not need special accommodations that a private school isn’t set up to provide, then this is flat-out discrimination. Although private schools can pick and choose students, federal law (assuming you are in the U.S.) requires that they not use certain criteria (such as race, ethnicity, disability, etc.) to do so.

    My daughter has needed extra help in school since kindergarten. She attended a private Christian school on scholarship, and was not diagnosed with autism then. She was diagnosed with ADHD, and in K had a great teacher who managed her well. From grade 1 to grade 3, the same teacher was assigned to pull her out of class and tutor her one-on-one for an hour or two a day. The school met my daughter’s need without an IEP, without ability to pay tuition, and without regard to her diagnosis. This was the right thing to do, both ethically and morally. Since my daughter did need special help that was not normally provided to students, they would have been within their legal right to not accept her as a student.

    If you can fight the school, please do so. Other private schools, even Catholic ones, do treat parents and students with respect and don’t kick kids out simply because of a diagnosis.

    I’m not Christian but have read the bible and am familiar with its precepts. If memory serves, Jesus showed righteous anger at the temple and took action. There is a time for turning the other cheek and a time to pick up the sword.

    Regardless of your choice, I hope you find a school that shares your values and that accepts Elliot as the valuable person that he is.

    Reply

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