Four parents are suing the Philadelphia School District, challenging a practice they say discriminates against autistic children.
Because of how autism services classes are organized within the district, students are shuffled to different elementary and middle schools so they can continue to get those services. The parents say that practice violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sonja Kerr, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia who is representing the families, said individual schools often have support services for children with autism who are in kindergarten through second grade, or third through fifth grade. But the suit alleges programs for all age ranges are often not in the same building.
“What we’re saying is that if a child with autism begins in a K-5 school, the child (should) continue in that K-5 school, or if a child is in a K-8 school they (should) continue through that K-8 school,” Kerr said.
Plaintiff Heather Sanasac’s 8-year-old son, Ryan, finished second grade at Richmond Elementary Tuesday. But Sanasac said she does not know where he will be going to third grade in the fall because it is not yet known which autism programs within the district will have openings then.
“We’re just really upset because all of the ‘typical’ children get to go to our neighborhood school ’til fifth grade, and our children have to leave just because of the fact they have autism,” Sanasac said.
Sanasac said moving to another school will be hard for her son because children with autism have trouble adjusting to change.
“Their anxiety consumes them,” Sanasac said. “It consumes everything that they do.”
The suit alleges the policy is widespread.
The Philadelphia School District declined to comment on pending litigation.