My child was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of 5th grade. She had to spend a significant amount of time studying after school, but she is performing at grade level, and took the ISEE exam and got average scores, and is in all respects, fully functional. When applying to private middle schools I disclosed in the school applications that she was diagnosed with ADHD, and she spends a great deal of her spare time studying math. She was outright rejected for admissions by every single school - all four -- that she applied to. In her private elementary school every other kid in her class got accepted to at least one or two of these very same schools and wait-listed on the others. Several of the kids in her class had grades and test scores that were comparable to her's
You may have a claim for discrimination in the admissions decision, but it will be a steep, expensive, and long difficult road to meaningful remedy. By your own description and narrative here, the schools to which you applied are very competitive. Their admissions processes and decisions are highly subjective and based on many factors other than test scores and prior student performance. The school is undoubtedly prepared to articulate a non-discriminatory reason for not choosing your daughter from the pool of applicants, and she was not the only student that this school did not choose. The school's articulation of a non-discriminatory reason is not even required until you have already traveled a long way down the legal road.
Proof of any actionable discrimination is always tough, but "intake" cases (failure to hire, failure to admit) are among the toughest. It would be different if the school would simply acknowledge the factual basis for denial of admission and the parties could proceed to a straight-forward resolution of the issue of whether denial of admission to your child based on her condition is unlawful. But that is not the process, I am sorry to say.
Talk with a local skilled and experienced discrimination attorney if you wish to pursue a claim here. There are many excellent lawyers in the field in Southern California. But be aware: notwithstanding that they are competitors, private schools that compete for economically advantaged students are a cohesive and insular industry. A legal claim against one for unlawful denial of admission will be felt and taken as a threat to the autonomy and the economic interests of all. There will be a circling of the wagons and a gathering in of the circle of private schools that will affect your family's future prospects for any access to these schools.
The concern for you is, how wide is that circle? My experiences in representing teachers and students at private schools suggests that it can be state-wide and even beyond where there is a professional affiliation. It is an exceptionally cohesive and insular industry. Executive and teaching staff move freely and often within that circle. When I have a student client who needs to transfer for reasons of disciplinary issues, it is generally the case that private schools in the mid-West and East Coast know all about about my client student's issue -- and expected an overture! -- even before I can make contact (and I work very fast in these circumstances -- snail mail is never an option). The private middle school grapevine/network can be astonishingly fast and effective. It rarely publishes retractions or corrections. You will want consider the entire landscape of the private school issue in deciding whether you choose to pursue legal action here.
Good luck to your daughter. A young girl who spends her free time studying math is formidable, a force to be reckoned with, to say the least, and she will, inevitably, have the last laugh at the middle-minds that judged her.
The federal law that most likely applies to your situation is the Americans wih Disabiltiies Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination solely on the basis of disability. The ADA applies to any business or insitiution that operates in the public shpere. However,religiously based schools are exempt from the ADA. This is different from Section 504 of the the Rehabilitation Act, its predecessor, which applies only to those entities that recieve federal funds. As the other attorneys have pointed out, assuming eihter of these laws (or a similar state law) applies, you would have to prove that the denial of your child's application is based solely on disability-based discrimination. That would require a showing that other students with equal qualifications were admitted and your child was not. There may also be other means of proof - such as showing that a particular school has never admitted a seemingly qualified student with a disability or, specifically, ADHD. If the school(s) articulate a plausible reason for rejecting your child, and not the others, you would need to show that their reason is a pretense. One possible way of approaching it is to file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Ofice of Civil Rights (OCR). That can be done online or by mail, and the filing of a complaint will cause OCR to launch an initial inquiry. You my want to visit their website for an explanation of their procedures. I also join in the recommendation that you contact an attorney experienced in education law to discuss the facts of your case and strategies before filing a complaint.
Education law focuses on issues in schools and universities, such as appealing suspensions and expulsions, or updating IEPs (Individualized Education Programs).
If you're faced with a dispute that can't be resolved by negotiation, a lawsuit may be necessary. It will allow you to seek a legally binding solution in court.
Written by attorney Erin Ann Levine
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