Brief of the Brain Injury Association of Maine, as Amicus Curiae

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 5.3 million Americans currently live with disabilities resulting from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and 1.5 million Americans sustain at TBI each year. The vast majority of these injuries are mild to moderate in severity. Because the effects of mild to moderate brain injuries are not always readily apparent, brain injury survivors often have a difficult time obtaining necessary workplace and public accommodations. Even in cases where the TBI is apparent, public understanding and knowledge of this disability is limited.

As a result of the public's limited understanding of physical, psychological, and cognitive effects of brain injury, brain injury survivors are frequently subject to unlawful discrimination. For example, members of our organization have been subjected to onerous, expensive, and unnecessary neuropsychological and psychological evaluations as a prerequisite to returning to work based on purported concerns about "public safety," despite having been cleared to return to work by their treating physicians.

BIAME is concerned that similarly unnecessary barriers may have been erected by the defendants in the instant case, thereby preventing the plaintiff, Jan Rankowski, from playing with his peers on the school's playground.

In resolving the disputed factual issues in this case, BIAME requests that the Court be particularly sensitive to the challenges that individuals with disabilities experience every day due to ignorance and irrational fear. BIAME further requests that, in the event that the school's description of Jan's behavior is accurate, the Court pay particular attention whether Jan was treated the same way as other children using that playground who experience behavioral problems.

Undoubtedly the school has extensive experience with children who are disruptive and disobedient. Has the school treated these children the same way as Jan Rankowski? It is very difficult to believe that comparable playground behavior by other students resulted in the school requiring a formal behavioral assessment and the development of a "behavioral plan" for those students.

Obviously autistic children present special challenges to schools and, to the extent that the school believed it necessary to obtain expert advice on how best to meet the challenges in this case, it should have done so. It should not, however, have terminated Jan's use of the playground and disrupted the fragile childhood friendships that he was developing in order to meet its legal obligations toward this child.

August 5, 2004

Peter L. Thompson, Esq.
Bar No. 8011
Attorney for BIAM

Law Offices of Peter L. Thompson
97 India Street
Portland, ME 04101
Tel. (207) 874-0909
Fax. (207) 772-6402

 

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