New York School Wants to Block Student With Down Syndrome on 1st Day

The first day of school could be a dramatic one for a tony Long Island town.

ByABC News
September 1, 2015, 9:34 AM
In an undated photo made from Google Image Street view, shows the main entrance of Westhampton beach middle school.
In an undated photo made from Google Image Street view, shows the main entrance of Westhampton beach middle school.

— -- For one Long Island, New York, father, an issue that has been building for two years appears to be headed to a dramatic head on his son's first day of school.

Christian Killoran of Remsenburg, New York, wants his 12-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, to attend the same middle school as his friends and siblings, but says the Westhampton Beach School District will not let Aiden Killoran in.

But his dad says he plans to show up at the school on the first day, Wednesday, with Aiden and supporters. The school had requested a temporary restraining order to keep the Killorans off school property. In U.S. District Court on Monday, the family and the school reached an agreement that a restraining order would not be needed.

"They [the Westhampton School District] has never in history allowed an alternately assessed special education student to attend its middle school," Killoran told ABC News of students with disabilities whose performance is evaluated in ways other than traditional testing.

This would include students with cognitive and other disabilities.

Killoran said denying Aiden entry is a violation of his civil rights and that if the school is going to deny him entry, "they should have the b**** to look him in the eye and tell him he is not wanted."

In the past, according to Killoran, students with certain special needs have instead attended a nearby school but he said because "99 percent" of graduates from Remsenburg-Speonk elementary school go to Westhampton Beach Middle School, Aiden should be able to as well.

Christian Killoran said he has reached an agreement with the Remsenburg-Speonk School District that Aiden would return to his same elementary school this year. However, the family has reportedly filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Westhampton Beach school district, alleging that the district does not want to educate certain special needs in its middle and high school. The lawsuit is pending.

In a statement to ABC News, Superintendent of Westhampton Beach School District Michael R. Radday said, "In accordance to New York State and Federal privacy laws, the district is legally prohibited from discussing individual student matters and cannot comment on pending litigation."

The president of the Westhampton Beach Board of Education did not responded to ABC News' request for comment. But in a letter sent to The Southampton Press by school board member Suzanne M. Mensch and obtained by ABC News, Mensch wrote she was "extremely disheartened by the Killoran family’s repeated public efforts to bully the Westhampton Beach School District into developing an educational program for their son" and that "Westhampton Beach has not been a party to this discussion" regarding Aiden's placement.

“On July 22, the superintendent of Remsenburg notified Westhampton Beach that a resolution had been reached that did not involve Westhampton Beach and that the child would be attending Remsenburg-Speonk for the 2015-16 school year,” the letter states. “Why would the Killorans willingly enter into such an agreement with Remsenburg-Speonk and then threaten legal action about the placement they agreed to.”

She added, “The challenge we have faced is that oftentimes the numbers of students with similar educational needs within a specified age range is very small. In these cases, students can be better served in specialized placements at a partner district or the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.”

The district has reportedly told the family it does not have the programming to teach Aiden, and they should consider other districts.

According to Christian Killoran, however, the conversation regarding Aiden's placement in middle school was started with the Westhampton Beach School District two years ago. Killoran told ABC News he was told that because Aiden was, at the time, enrolled in the Remsenburg-Speonk School District, the Westhampton Beach School District could not discuss the issue. Remsenburg-Speonk does not have middle and high school schools so its students feed into neighboring Westhampton Beach schools.

"We told them two years ago we would not be victimized by their culture [of not allowing certain students with special needs entry] and wanted to develop a plan," Killoran said.

Professor Sue Buckley, director for Science and Research at Down Syndrome Education International in Portsmouth, U.K., said in an email to ABC News, "I am appalled and saddened that any school should prevent a father and child from entering the grounds by law. All the research studies show children with Down syndrome achieve more in inclusive education – better reading, maths and spoken language outcomes, more socially mature and fewer behaviour challenges – yet many US school districts seem to ignore this information. All children should be welcomed in their local community.

“What message are the educators giving all the other children in their school if they exclude a child with Down syndrome? I agree this is a clear case of disability discrimination," added Buckley, a leading expert on inclusion for students with Down syndrome.

In Mensch's letter, she takes issues with the Killorans's account of the situation. "As a parent, I continue to be disappointed in the Killorans’s unwillingness to be completely honest about their situation. I am particularly outraged by Mr. Killoran’s suggestion that he will bring his son to the Westhampton Beach Middle School on opening day knowing full well that he is enrolled as a student elsewhere."

But Killoran said Aiden has a right to attend the same school as the kids he has known all his life and not be discriminated against because of his diagnosis. Aiden, who he called "incredible" is the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from Remsenburg-Speonk elementary. "If you ask the community what they want, you'd find they also want Aiden included. Everyone benefits from his empathy and kindness. We have faith in the school, teacher and staff to provide him with a great education and are committed to changing this."