Segregation of Autistic Students Ruled Unlawful

An administrative law judge ruled earlier this year that the Amador County Unified School District in California violated the law in connection with its removal of six young Autistic students from their elementary school. The children were placed into a small portable classroom at a different school over their parents’ objections. The ruling came after a parent filed a due process complaint against the district. The judge found that the student had been denied a free appropriate public education because of the district’s failure to allow meaningful participation by the parents in the IEP process. After this decision, the parents of the other students placed in the same classroom retained counsel, and further legal action is anticipated.

The judge wrote in her decision that the “classroom is dark, cramped and cluttered. Classroom materials can not all be contained in the kitchen cupboards, or in the bookcases, and some are stacked on the floor by walls or partitions, which decreases the amount of usable space, as do the bulky bookcase dividers.” The judge stated that the room was too small to hold the equipment required to meet the student’s sensory and educational needs. It also did not “contain the small discrete workspaces that are an integral part of a classroom” suitable for teaching Autistic children.

Upon finding that the district’s wrongful acts had caused harm, the judge ordered the district to hire an independent expert to determine the extent of the damage caused by the district’s unlawful practices and what compensation it should be required to pay. The judge required the district to provide “a classroom that is spacious enough to contain discrete instructional areas for both one-to-one and small group instruction, a quiet area, a reading area, an eating area, and a circle-time area.” In addition, the judge ordered the district to provide sensory integration equipment and an appropriately credentialed teacher and trained aides. Click here to read the full text of the decision on the California Special Ed Wiki website.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network supports the right of students with disabilities to receive an inclusive education on an equal basis with all other students, with additional supports and services as necessary to ensure full participation. Inclusion leads to increased opportunities for students with disabilities and provides an effective model for education in today’s multicultural society. School segregation is based on outdated prejudices and is no more legitimate with regard to Autistic children than when its targets are children of any other minority group. Action should be taken to end such practices wherever they exist.