Thursday, September 17, 2015
A school where kids with special needs are not allowed. Really.
Please note that del Sol's program is not for children with learning, behavioral, or social/emotional difficulties, special needs, or for children that have been identified by parents, educators, or professionals as having too much difficulty, or would likely have difficulty, with 'fitting in' to traditional school environments and expectations....
The above is part of the description of the "del Sol experience," a private alternative school for grades PK-12 located in Manhattan Beach, California. Ironically, the first line of the page reads, "Del Sol is alive with a caring, supportive, 'possibilities' environment." Not so much. In fact, their no-special-needs stance is blatant and wholesale discrimination that violates the law.
The wonderful Michele Shusterman, mom of a daughter with cerebral palsy and a disability advocate, shared this outrage on her CP Daily Living Facebook page, and plans on writing the Department of Justice.
Oh, and just in case parents of kids with special needs don't get the message, the Admissions Information page contains this "Important Note" at the end of the page: "Except for cases where special educational needs exist due to learning problems/disabilities, enrolling one child and not others is not in keeping with our mission." How downright open-minded of them!
The discrimination seems to be ongoing at del Sol. As an anonymous parent noted in a comment on greatschools.org dated June 13, 2014, "This school will not even consider applications from children with disabilities, including autism, mobility issues, etc. The claim that it will fundamentally alter the program allows it to skirt ADA compliance. At the same time, this discrimination is just wrong."
Are we living in 1950 or 2015?!
The school is tiny, and seems to have less than 50 students—but that is no excuse. Private schools (excluding religions ones) are considered a public entity, as defined by The Americans with Disabilities Act. Although some schools use the "undue burden" loophole to get out of inclusion, "Claiming undue burden does not receive a public entity of all obligation," points out the nonprofit PACER (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights). "They must still provide program access through means that would not result in a fundamental alteration or undue financial or administrative burden."
In any case, what's particularly shocking about del Sol is how unabashedly the school displays its discrimination. They present their no-special-needs policy matter of factly—the same way other schools might state that, say, students are not allowed to bring foods containing nuts.
What kind of message are they sending students and their parents about kids with special needs? What kind of message are they sending anyone who reads or hears about their policies?
Although it's rare for a school to be this openly discriminatory, Michele and I both hear stories all the time about parents of kids with special needs struggling to get their kids enrolled, involved and included. Max has long been in a dedicated school for kids with special needs, but we've encountered resistance getting him into camps and programs (including this maddening incident).
Last year, Michele pulled her daughter out of a private school that refused to install (or even let her and her husband pay for) a child-height bathroom grab bar. "I still can't believe it happened," says Michele. "She was there for three years! The principal had this idea—or tried to hide behind it—that a grab bar that meets ADA requirements for adults meant that they were in compliance with the law. She said if they allowed this exception for my child, they would have to do it for others. What the hell was I supposed to do with this level of ignorance?! She was adamant she was correct because their building contractor told them so. I said, 'Even if this was accurate, this approaching and thinking is so wrong on so many levels.'"
After exhaustive attempts to deal with the school board, Michele and her husband decided the school was no place for their child. When the principal noted that they "loved" her daughter, recalls Michele, "I responded, 'If you even cared in the least about my child, you would be concerned about her safety, well-being and comfort in meeting on of the most basic human needs.'"
This week the news came out that the Obama administration would be issuing guidelines to states, school districts and early childhood providers urging them to include preschoolers in mainstream early learning programs. This is groundbreaking, and heartening to those of us who have kids with special needs. But the truth is that no Department of Education initiative is going to change people with the del Sol attitude.
Sometimes, parents have the law behind us. Sometimes, in the best interest of our children, we have to stop fighting the good fight and move on to other options or solutions. But at the very least, we owe it to our kids—and ones like them—to call people on their exclusionary, discriminatory and just plain wrong mindsets about children with special needs.
If you would like to share your thoughts on del Sol's exclusionary policy with the school, the principal is Richard Sharp and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org
On September 20, I and several people who emailed Rick Sharp received the following response from him in regard to the exclusionary policies on the school website:
I regret that you have been distressed by the content of our website. I also regret that that information is ON our site. It is very old information which is not consistent with our practices. I didn't even remember it was there until my daughter pointed it out to me at the beginning of this school year.
I would like you to know that we presently have 6 children with diagnosed ADHD, two with diagnosed anxiety disorders, two with ODD diagnosis, one with apraxia and several with dyslexia. In the last 5 years we have also had a child with bi-polar disorder who frequently attacked other children and teachers physically (she was with us for 3 years before her parents and the school agreed that she needed more help than we were able to give), and one with profound hearing loss (who withdrew after we used microphones on her 3 teachers, but the environment had too much outside noise for them to be effective). As you can see, the paragraph you are siting is not reflective of our policies.
It is my intention to remove the paragraph as soon as I can figure out how to do it. We are a small school. I have to do as much of the work as I can.
Image source: Flickr/Rick Shinozaki