By: Barbara Boyer
A Moorestown, N.J. preschool is facing allegations that it unlawfully expelled a 3-year-old girl with Down syndrome because she was not potty-trained, according to a lawsuit filed by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
The lawsuit filed in Burlington County Superior Court alleges that Chesterbrook Academy, part of the national preschool chain — Nobel Learning Communities, Inc. — was discriminatory in 2015 when administrators expelled the child, but not others at the school who were not fully potty-trained.
“Due to pending litigation, we are unable to address the details of this specific case; however, our schools are dedicated to serving the needs of a diverse student population, including many with disabilities,” said a statement provided by Chris McMurry, a spokesman for Nobel Learning Communities.
“We are proud of our comprehensive policies and procedures to ensure compliance with state and federal laws governing the rights of all students,” according to the statement.
According to the lawsuit, Chesterbrook advanced the young girl to an intermediate class, even though she was not yet toilet trained, and then did not provide a reasonable accommodation for the girl’s disability as required by law. The child was identified only as Jane Doe in the suit.
According the the girl’s doctor, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the child likely would not have been fully potty-trained until she was 5, or older, because she was developmentally delayed due to Down syndrome, according to the lawsuit.
Chesterbrook, the suit alleges, made allowances for other intermediate students without disabilities who were permitted to remain in the program even though they too needed assistance related to toilet training.
The state’s complaint also includes references of prior accusations of similar conduct regarding children with disabilities at other Chesterbrook Academy facilities in New Jersey, and across the country, over the past decade.
A 2006 settlement of a Gloucester County case required training for Chesterbrook staff on disability discrimination. In that case, the school was accused of refusing to accept a student with spina bifida.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Nobel Learning Communities for excluding children with disabilities from programs in 15 states, including New Jersey.
The suit was settled in 2011 with Nobel Learning Communities agreeing to implement a disability non-discrimination policy, implement a policy to address reasonable modification requests, appoint a disability compliance officer and arrange for staff training.
“This case is particularly troubling because Chesterbrook and its parent company have faced similar allegations in the past despite holding themselves out as the ‘gold standard for ADA classroom compliance,’” said Craig T. Sashihara, director of the Division on Civil Rights for the New Jersey attorney general.
“Given their past assurances to comply with the law and to train their staff on the governing legal standards for dealing with young children with disabilities, we expected better — more compliance, more sensitivity and less intractability — when responding to the needs of a 3-year-old girl with Down syndrome.”
© 2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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