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Disability Rights Group Stands with Couple Accusing Private School of Discrimination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 15, 2014
MEDIA CONTACT: Max Samis, Rabinowitz Communications, Max@rabinowitz.com, 202-265-3000

Disability Rights Group Stands with Couple Accusing Private School of Discrimination

Group notes that Washington Market School would not be the first to fail ADA compliance

BETHESDA – Disability rights activists are standing with a New York couple who filed suit in Manhattan Federal Court alleging that a private school in New York rescinded their son’s acceptance after learning that he was recently diagnosed with autism. The couple claims that administrators at the Washington Market School are in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The lawsuit names the school, enrollment director Rachael Macchiesi, and head of school Ronnie Moskowitz as defendants. The couple, Jennifer Sample and Eliot Ferguson, is seeking mandatory training for all of Washington Market School’s staff and the appointment of a federal monitor to ensure ADA compliance during the admissions process.

“It is disheartening, only one year out from celebrating the 25th anniversary of passage of the ADA, that our children still face such discrimination,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbilityUSA, a non-profit organization working to empower people with disabilities. “The children attending these elite, private institutions are likely tomorrow’s leaders. How do we expect them to learn to embrace those with differences if they are not asked to socialize and learn with their peers with disabilities in the first place? These students may grow to pity those with disabilities, rather than learn to include them and embrace all that they can offer.”

According to Jennifer Sample, when she and her husband first applied for admission, her son was not yet diagnosed. However, once accepted, in the spirit of full disclosure, Sample told the school. Sample and Ferguson agreed to pay for a one-to-one paraprofessional to accompany him at school and the school’s full tuition, even if their son would only have an abbreviated schedule.

“It is offensive to me as a parent that in order to maintain our son’s acceptance, I would have had to hide our son’s diagnosis because of Washington Market’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. No parent should ever be punished for telling the truth,” said Sample in a statement.

Washington Market School is hardly the only school alleged to discriminate against children with disabilities. RespectAbilityUSA recently penned a letter to the heads of the top U.S. Private Schools asking for their commitment in welcoming qualified students with disabilities into their community. In the letter, the organization noted that few private schools throughout the country admit students with disabilities, and encouraged the creation and execution of a strategic plan for inclusion of students and staff members with disabilities. RespectAbility noted that there are a wide number of students with disabilities who meet these school’s high academic benchmarks and that private schools are capable of improving inclusion without lowering their standards.

In January 2011, the Justice Department settled a suit with Nobel Learning Communities, Inc., who operates a nationwide network of more than 180 schools. The suit alleged that NLC was in violation of Title III of the ADA by excluding children with disabilities from its schools. The settlement’s key provisions including the adoption and publicity of a Disability Non-Discrimination Policy, monetary relief for the children, commitment to avoid unnecessary inquiries into existence of disabilities, consideration of reasonable modification requests, the appointment of an ADA compliance officer, and training for staff. In 2008, Miss Porter’s, an elite Connecticut boarding school, faced a lawsuit alleging that a student with attention-deficit disorder was the victim of bullying, and a New Hampshire school was sued by the mother of a daughter who was allegedly expelled due to an eating disorder.

RespectAbilityUSA is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are treated with the fairness they deserve in all walks of life, and the organization has pledged their support and assistance to Sample and Ferguson in any way possible.

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RespectAbilityUSA is a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to reshape the attitudes of American society so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in and contribute to society, and empower people with disabilities to achieve as much of the American dream as their abilities and efforts permit.

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