Maine Playground Discrimination Case
Gayle A. Fitzpatrick and Charles Rankowski,
individually and as parents of Jan Rankowski, a minor
Town of Falmouth, Carolyn A. Crowell, Barbara Powers, and Timothy McCormack
all individually and as employees of the Falmouth Public Schools,
and Steve Brinn, as chairman of the Falmouth School Board
State of Maine, Cumberland, Superior Court Civil Action Docket No. CV-04-98
Civil Rights Are "Interim" In The State of Maine (Posted August 12, 2005)
Appellate Brief (posted 7 March 2005)
"The Fix Is In" (posted 29 October 2004)
Appeal (posted 19 September 2004)
Excerpt from Deposition of Barbara Powers, 1 June 2004
(posted 16 September 2004)
Court Reports, Articles & Letters to the Editor
Press Coverage & Other External Links (in chronological order)
Jan's parents say his behavior is a symptom of his disability, and banning him from the playground is discrimination... Fitzpatrick testified that she had supplied the district with ongoing assessments of Jan's behavior, which she said school officials chose to ignore.
For autistic people, social, emotional and communicative development take place on a more extended time scale than for the neurologically typical... It is inherently discriminatory to scrutinize a person with a cognitive or sensory difference, then to penalize them for the very challenges that accompany that difference.
...this boy's problems, which stem from his disability, aren't that severe. He can be taught to greet people, if that's essential. I know because my nephew, who has AS, was taught that by a special ed teacher at about the age of 9. And the school's going to lose in court. "Emotional safety" implies that other kids have a right not to have their feelings hurt by a kid who doesn't know when he's being rude. That's not going to fly.
"By banning the kid from the most social part of the day, you're ensuring that he won't be able to learn social skills. It's almost like saying, 'You don't know math, so we're not letting you in the math class,''' said Wayne Gilpin, president of Future Horizons.
During the three-hour hearing, which drew several advocates for people with autism, Fitzpatrick said since her son's banishment he has grown depressed, a common symptom of Asperger's, isolated and has gained 20 pounds.
The present case, while dealing with the simple issue of one handicapped child's use of a public school playground during school hours has much larger implications. The civil rights of all handicapped people, children and adults alike, to fully enjoy and participate in all of life's various experiences are at issue.
The Autism Society of Maine (will) file a friend of the court brief in the case. 'Disruptive behavior alone is not enough to exclude a child, because all children are disruptive at times. The playing field has to be level.'
Falmouth parents Gayle Fitzpatrick and Charles Rankowski were in York County Superior Court today, hoping to convince a judge to allow their home-schooled son access to a public school playground.
Coles said Jan is highly intelligent but emotionally limited. He said the boy could be "defiant" and "anti-social," but that he was still entitled to use public facilities. Coles said school rules would have imposed suspensions of no more than three days for enrolled children who engaged in the same behavior. "The facts are overwhelming that this child was treated differently than other children," he said.
Excluding children who have deficits in their behavioral and social skills from such community programs results in a "Catch-22." Children develop important social and behavioral management skills through their involvement with peers, especially peers who can serve as positive role models. Without such involvements, children with behavioral difficulties become further marginalized and less likely to acquire the skills they need to participate in community/school programs.
Coles said he found it "interesting" that Humphrey determined a 9-year-old boy posed a risk to the community. "The town of Falmouth may have won legally, but they surely lost in the public opinion arena," said Coles.
I now grant the defendants' motion to dismiss all the federal claims, and remand the remaining state law claims to state court.
The plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction and the defendants seek dismissal of this lawsuit involving denial of playground privileges to a home-schooled autistic child.
The teacher's aide noted that the autistic boy jumped off a bench the wrong way, walked away from a game, refused to greet an aide, cursed at the staff, and reported that someone was spying on him, according to court records.
We're gearing up for the Hearing in August, and everything is moving along very quickly. The Defendents have been deposed. Two more individuals are scheduled for depositions, and subpoenas have been served on several individuals.
Pending an appeal, Charles Rankowski said, the family plans to get connected with more home-schooled children so Jan can interact with his peers. "He really just wants to play tag with his friends," Charles Rankowski said. "He enjoys that."
A superior court judge on Tuesday ruled that Falmouth school officials did not discriminate against a disabled boy when they banned him from an elementary school playground when other pupils are there. Justice Thomas Humphrey refused the request from (parents) to have the ban lifted. The couple said they will appeal the ruling.
Falmouth school officials did not break the law when they denied a disabled home-schooled student access to a playground, Maine's highest court found on Wednesday. The court ruled that Jan Rankowski, a 9-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome, posed a threat to himself and other students when he played at the Plummer-Motz School, and that the school was right to ban him from the playground until a behavior plan was developed. Fitzpatrick said Wednesday that the real reason the school insisted on another assessment was to delay his return to the playground.
Fitzpatrick said school officials were singling out her son and 'treated my son differently from how they would have treated any other kid, and that is not okay... . All we want is for him to be back on that playground.'
...it is probably costing taxpayers at least $100,000 in legal fees at this point to fight the case.. "Thereís a lot of people out there who are very distressed about what the Falmouth school system is doing," (plaintiff's attorney) Coles said. "Itís really bizarre behavior from them."
Advocates say that what started as a playground spat could end up having repercussions on the way school districts treat children with neurological disorders and home-schooled students.
"I'm appalled since my child has never hurt anybody in his entire life," said Fitzpatrick, who added that the family plans to appeal the ruling. "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."
Katz's testimony came in the second day of a hearing before Judge Thomas Humphrey in York County Superior Court, where the home-schooled boy's parents, Gayle Fitzpatrick and Charles Rankowski, are seeking an injunction to allow their autistic son to use the Plummer-Motz School playground in Falmouth during recess.
A shy kid who refused to speak to an adult stranger? A child who walked away from a game? A kid who says said somebody is spying on him when that is exactly what they are doing and their own documentation proves this? This is unusual?
The dispute, to be heard next month, illustrates the difficult balance between rights and accommodation. (Page contains Collins' original article, plus four replies, offering a sample of popular opinion on the matter.)
To publish pejorative hearsay about a disabled child without balancing it with the parent's perspective betrays an extreme editorial bias in favor of the school... In this case, we're learning about a very smart kid with the rambunctious energy of a six year old and the communicative skills of a four year old. Believe it or not, that's autism. Do you really think he should be banished for this?
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In other words: Sublime or ridiculous? You decide!
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