Jon Caldara

Jon Caldara

A month ago I used this space to write how my son with Down syndrome was being denied his right to an education as my school district refused to give him in-person learning.

Little has changed. Sadly, I see no other option than to take legal action against the district in hope of restoring my son’s chances for a future and stopping the damage of the retreat in his learning and fundamental therapies.

A quick recap. Online learning is no learning at all for my 16-year-old son, Chance. Given his severe disability he needs hands-on, in-person education with actual three-dimensional teachers, therapists and peers.

For a half year now I have witnessed what can only be called wanton cruelty to kids like Chance as they atrophy and regress. It has been heartbreaking. They are not just being ignored; they’re being injured.

Online learning might work for some kids, but no matter how hard his teachers try, and they bravely do try (they’re great), it fails Chance completely. He learns through personal interaction. He is starving to death.

Handicapped kids have a right to this core function of government, education, the same as able kids. To deny it to them just because they can’t learn on-line is a callous violation of their rights.

They can NEVER get this time back. The damage of this regression is permanent. They only get so much time in school before they age out of the system, as if learning much more slowly than their peers doesn’t put them behind enough.

Chance is hardly alone. Special needs kids require a lot more attention than general education kids, need a lot more direct instruction, need to be checked a lot more frequently, and need more supervision and interaction than their non-disabled counterparts. 

None of this can effectively be provided online. The reality then is that the longer they stay online, the further they fall back, ripping away their already slim chance for ever integrating into the larger society.  

Imagine if my son were treated this way in the medical world.

Chance has endured some 14 surgeries including open heart surgery at just a few weeks old. As difficult as it all has been, each procedure was taken to help improve his life and to keep his health from falling backwards.

If hospitals refused to perform those needed medical actions Chance’s future would have been irreparably harmed. We wouldn’t forgive them if they refused to do their jobs. How can we forgive school districts that refuse to provide this equally critical services our special needs children?

If in the age of COVID first responders are deemed essential and medical staff are essential, then educators must be very next in line. Liquor stores and cannabis workers are “essential” but not our teachers?

Throughout Colorado many schools have fully and safely reopened to all kids. But in my district, Boulder Valley School District, they hope to provide a whopping two-day-a week in person service by the end of the month. Whoopee.

Kids like mine need at least five days a week in school just as federal law demands. And it’s time to enforce that law.

I have retained Colorado education rights lawyer Igor Raykin to legally challenge BVSD on the grounds my school district is violating the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). He plans to follow my suit with a class-action suit. Parents whose kids are experiencing the same discrimination as mine might want to contact him.

IDEA ensures students with disabilities are provided a “free appropriate public education” that is tailored to their individual needs.

What makes all this so infuriating is it is something that schools can absolutely manage safely; they're simply choosing not to. 

If 10% of American kids have some sort of disability that means during this whole fiasco they could have provided in-person learning to all kids like mine and do so safely. With a building at only 10% of capacity of the children it normally serves, social distancing could be easily achieved.  

It is shameful that the oh-so-enlightened, tolerant and diversity-celebrating Boulder school system has been so hurtful to special needs students that we must rely on the courts, not community values and commitment, to save our kids from their life-damaging neglect.

Hope your school district cares for special needs kids better than mine.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts "The Devil's Advocate with Jon Caldara" on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts "The Devil's Advocate with Jon Caldara" on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.

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