WATERVILLE — The parents of an Eastmont School District student are suing the district for allegedly discriminating against their son on the basis of his disability.
Sarah and Andrew Strang have a 14-year-old Latino child with Down Syndrome who is “naturally social and enjoys being with his non-disabled peers,” enjoys photography and is passionate about singing and dancing, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Douglas County Superior Court.
The family alleges the district has “systematically been discriminating” against their son on an “ongoing and continuing basis from 2014 (kindergarten year) to 2022 (seventh grade)” while attending Cascade Elementary School and Sterling Junior High School, according to the lawsuit.
They claim the district discriminated against him by segregating him from other students, prohibiting him from certain elective courses and tasking him with janitorial work as a form of vocational training.
During the 2021-2022 school year, the Strangs learned their child and other students with disabilities were doing janitorial work at the school.
The Strangs were told by the school district that it was a “special education janitorial program designed to teach students with disabilities social skills,” as well as “vocational training,” according to the lawsuit.
The Strangs were unaware their child was participating in the program. Other “general education students” are not required to perform janitorial work at the school.
And on numerous occasions from 2014 to 2022, the Strangs reportedly requested their child be integrated whenever possible with other “general education students,” but were repeatedly denied.
In 2017, for example, their child was not permitted to perform with his classmates for a Veteran’s Day assembly despite being in the same music class, confusing the child and causing him to cry during the assembly, according to the lawsuit.
And in 2019, again at a Veteran’s Day assembly, “(their child was) only permitted to do a flag dance they learned in adaptive P.E. in a small group of only disabled students and were not permitted to participate in singing with general education students,” according to the lawsuit.
During the 2015-2016 school year, the Strang family recalled their child was not allowed to attend an assembly about “disability awareness” with his class, according to the lawsuit. The child has not been allowed to participate in any assemblies since the 2019 Veteran’s Day assembly.
When in middle school, the child was not allowed to participate in electives, like band, despite showing an interest in the drums. The school district allegedly denied the Strangs’ request for him to take electives until “counsel became involved,” according to the lawsuit.
The Strangs claim their son has been subject to an unlawful “pattern of exclusion” and discrimination based on his ethnicity and disability. They also claim the school district was negligent in preventing their child from being “unlawfully” excluded at school. They asked the court to award “monetary relief” for damages and attorney’s fees.
The Strangs, however, specifically noted that they are not making any claims in regard to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or their child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP).
The IEP is a written statement for students in special education that describes the services the student will receive, as well as the amount of time spent in special education and any academic/behavioral goals in a school year, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The IEP is reviewed at least once a year with the student’s parents and several other staff members.
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