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School Can Ban Boy From Playground, Judge Says
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 1, 2004
FALMOUTH, MAINE--A home-schooled boy diagnosed with Asperger syndrome can be banned from the town's public school playground because of his behavior, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Cumberland Superior Court Judge Thomas Humphrey said the school's decision to keep Jan Rankowski off the playground was not discriminatory, because they boy posed a "significant risk" to the health and safety of other children and adults.
"While there was testimony that Jan's behavior was both consistent with his disability and consistent with that of a nondisabled child his age, the school's decision was not based on his disability, but on the school's legitimate need to obtain an assessment of the child and develop a plan for his safe and beneficial use of the facility," Humphrey's decision is quoted in the Boston Globe.
His family said they planned to appeal the ruling.
"I'm appalled since my child has never hurt anybody in his entire life," said the boy's mother, Gayle Fitzpatrick. "The fact that his neurology is different makes him a threat in the public mind. That is archaic. They're basically saying to put him back in the attic."
Melissa Hewey, the Portland lawyer who represented Falmouth, said of the parents, "It is our hope that the family will now reassess their position and begin to partner with the school."
Last November, Falmouth Public Schools officials prohibited Rankowski from coming onto the Plummer-Motz School playground during recess. They said that the fourth-grader had broken playground rules by pushing a younger child too hard on a swing, and then cursing at teachers and the school principal.
Jan's parents claim that his behavior is a symptom of his disability, considered a form of autism, and that the school's ban amount's to discrimination. They tried to sue the school in federal court, but the suit was dismissed in the spring when a judge determined that they had not exhausted all of their administrative remedies.
They then filed suit in state court, where they sought an injunction to allow Jan to use the playground when school started, along with money damages to pay attorney's fees and other costs.
School officials argued that Jan's suspension from the playground was a temporary measure that was needed while a program was designed to allow him to interact safely with other children.
About a half-dozen people who advocate for those with autism were present at the hearing, which lasted three days, the Portland Press Herald indicated.
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