Aug 22, 2014 1:22 AM by Maddie Garrett
A mother is suing Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 after the charter school un-enrolled her six-year-old son who has autism. Ramona Smith said her son's disability is the reason he was denied re-enrollment, even after he was accepted in 2012 and attended kindergarten and summer school at Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy.
Smith said the school was aware that her son, Robert, had autism when he was accepted to the Academy. But this summer, she received a letter from the Academy, stating he was denied re-enrollment because his special needs would require the school to hire additional staff or make part-time employees full-tim. Smith said in the lawsuit that pulling Robert out of the school will cause "irreparable harm." She also said the district's actions are discriminatory.
"They're using it as a pretext to not admit Robert, because he's autistic," she said.
Smith lives in District 49, where Robert when to preschool. But Smith said he didn't do well there.
"When he was at his previous school they were basically babysitting him, when I would go and pick him up he would be alone in a corner playing by himself," she said.
So she got Robert enrolled in Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy (CMCA) where her older son Michael was already attending. Smith said District 12 told her, D-49 wasn't providing adequate services for Robert, but their district would.
"Through affidavits, they are the ones that said that Robert's IEP (Individual Education Plan) at D-49 was inadequate, and now they're just saying just send him back, we don't want him," Smith explained.
Smith said Robert thrived at CMCA, he liked his teachers, aids and the other students. He was included by his peers and made progress socially and academically. Smith said for her son, that was monumental and why she is fighting to keep him at CMCA, even though he was denied re-enrollment.
"For them to say that we will not re-enroll him because of money is ridiculous, because they have an automatic re-enrollment policy," said Smith.
That is what CMCA's enrollment policy states: "Students enrolled in the Academy will be re-enrolled for the following year as long as they have not been expelled from the Academy as permitted by, and in accordance with, Colorado Law."
CMCA's contract also states that "The Academy shall not discriminate against any student on the basis of disability... Or need for special education services."
Despite that, the District sent Smith this response in regard to Robert's status: "When the Academy learned that it would again have to either extend part-time employees to full-time positions, or hire another person to work exclusively with him, he no longer was considered in "good standing" for the 2014-15 school year and his application was denied..."
Smith said that is discriminatory against her son because of his disability. District 12's Superintendent, Walt Cooper, said he could not comment on pending litigation or a specific child due to privacy laws.
"They're treating him like a piece of trash, they just want to throw him away, and that's not fair," Smith said through tears.
But, according to Colorado's school choice laws, it isn't illegal for a school to do.
"If it's a choice situation they do have the right to say that we can't provide services that this child needs, so therefore we can't accept them," said Connie McKenzie, an advocacy specialist with The Arc Pikes Peak Region.
McKenzie is an advocate for special education and an expert in special education law. She said unfortunately, she sees cases like Robert's all the time.
"Kids with disabilities are often denied, usually denied, almost always denied that choice spot and it's within the law," McKenzie said.
In her opinion, this is the definition of discrimination.
"It limits the kids choices, it limits their access to various things and we believe that that is discriminatory and the law should be changed,"she said.
The ones impacted are kids like Robert.
"If it ends up in the Supreme Court then I will keep on going because I will not allow Robert to just be thrown away," said Smith.
Smith has filed lawsuits in both state and federal courts against the Colorado Department of Education and the Cheyenne Mountain School District. She filed a due process complaint with the Colorado Department of Education, in which she says the refusal of the charter school to accept Robert was a violation of the federal "Stay Put" Law. However, she received a response from the Department of Education saying the "Stay Put" law didn't apply in this case. She is also fighting that measure as well.
In the lawsuits, Smith is asking if D-49 and D-12 cannot provide adequate services for Robert, then District 12 should pay for him to attend private school. While that is a provision in the law, McKenzie said that is rarely granted and can be difficult for parents to prove.