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Mother files grievance over sports accommodations for students with disabilities

by jmaloni
Sat, Sep 13th 2014 08:45 am

by Autumn Evans

A Town of Niagara mother has filed a grievance with the Niagara-Wheatfield School District over alleged discrimination against her son, a child with a disability.

Gidget Cannon told the school board Sept. 3 that when her 14-year-old son, who has Asperger's syndrome, was cut from the junior varsity football team in August, she was stunned. She met with the team's coach to discuss the issue, and was told her son did poorly on speed and agility tests and did not learn new plays quickly. Cannon was skeptical.

"After all, they only had three days of practice," she told the board. "They couldn't possibly know what he could do without putting him in a helmet and pads."

Cannon asked the coach if he had used her son's Individualized Education Plan. The coach said the IEP only applied to academics. Cannon said she believed the lack of using the IEP to be a violation of her son's civil rights.

When Cannon called Lenore Luciano, director of special education at N-W, Luciano also told her the IEP did not apply to sports, she said.

Cannon asked the director about a directive sent out by the Department of Education in August 2011, regarding Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which says schools are required to allow students with disabilities to participate in extracurricular activities, with reasonable accommodations.

"To my surprise, she admitted that she had never heard of this document," Cannon said. She said Luciano told her the issue would have to be handled by the incoming special education director, because of Luciano's retirement at the end of August.

Johnny Parks, a Town of Niagara resident who coached Cannon's son in Niagara Wheatfield Amateur Athletics, also spoke to the board on behalf of Cannon. He said Cannon's son performed well on his team, because he knew how to interact with him.

"I have had kids with disabilities every year on my team," Parks said. "Parents of kids with disabilities bring their kids to me for a reason: because I work with them."

Parks encouraged the board to accommodate students with disabilities, whom he said were successful in his program.

Cannon said because no one from the district had contacted her since late August, she filed a grievance.

"Everyone has a responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of students in this district," she said. "You have a choice: would you rather be a roadblock and continue to prevent disabled students from participating in sports, or would you choose to be the bridge to help keep students active and help them achieve their goals?"

Later, the board voted to increase school lunch prices to $2.25, and increase of 5 cents in the high school and 15 cents in the elementary school. The elementary and high school lunches are now the same price.

N-W Superintendent Lynn Marie Fusco estimated the cost would be about a $28 difference for each student at the K-5 level, and $10 difference for middle and high schoolers at the end of the year. Breakfast and free or reduced lunch prices are unaffected.

Jim Briggs, a resident in the Lewiston-Porter School District and president of the Niagara-Orleans Central Labor Council, approached the board to speak about finding new sources of revenue.

Briggs said his council was forming a coalition to target the New York State Power Authority for support, and inviting area school districts. He said their goal was to get about $3 million dollars a year for the districts.

"We have subsidized school taxes and property taxes on over $300 million at the New York Power Authority for over 60 years," Briggs said. "I feel it's time that we form a coalition and we explore this revenue source that can help the next generation."

The board formed an ad hoc committee of Richard Sirianni, Darren Sneed and Amy Duell to meet with the group and report back to the board, after which they will decide whether to get involved in the coalition.

The board also formally set a date to have information relevant to the veteran's tax exemption presented to them. The board unanimously passed a motion to have Fusco provide them with all necessary information on the exemption no later than the first board meeting of December.

In other board news:

•The board appointed Andrew Whek as the new assistant director of special education, on a three-year probationary term, with a salary of $69,000.

•Lori Pittman received a Board Achievement Award from the New York State School Board Association, in recognition of exemplary service.

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