Please help stop discrimination against children with disabilities at Calvary Church
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Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina sits on a $46,000,000, 95 acre campus. It is one of the largest churches in the southeast and operates one of the premier early childhood development programs in the city from its 41,000 square foot, 50 classroom Childhood Development Center (“CDC”). The castle-like church sits as a shining beacon for our city, but in reality it is committing wide spread discrimination by excluding or expelling disabled children from its CDC. Calvary Church stands by the CDC Director Pat Collins even as evidence mounts against her. Calvary Church refuses to voluntarily alter its policies to prohibit discrimination against the disabled, or to adopt federal disability standards applicable to non-religious schools.
We hope an outpouring of support from the community will prompt Calvary Church to do the right thing.
Here’s our story . . .
Francisco Borjas (Parents, Luis and Amaya Borjas), Lucas Dunning (Parents, Lucy and Jon Dunning), Carter Brundage (Parents, Liz and Tom Brundage), and Jaxon Shaw (Parents, Carmen and Johnathan) all attended Calvary Child Development Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Calvary Child Development Center has been operating for almost 40 years (since 1977) and has grown to an enrollment of over 800 children in preschool and daycare programs, ages six months through five years. The Director is currently Pat Collins.
Unfortunately all four of these children were told by Pat Collins that they were not allowed to attend the school anymore soon after being diagnosed with a medical disability.
Francisco had been attending school at the church since 2012, when he was 2 years old. When he was 4 years old, at the end of the school year he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2014. While dealing with the stress of learning how to manage their son's new diagnosis, the Borjas’ were told by the school that it was against school policy to check his sugar levels. As a solution the Borjas offered to come to the school once a day, at his lunch time, to manage their son's care. The director, Pat Collins told the Borjas family that Francisco was not welcome at Calvary anymore because of his condition. The parents offered to make a donation to the church to pay for a school nurse but their offer was declined and they were asked to remove Francisco from school immediately. While the school already knew of Francisco’s diagnosis since the end of the previous school year, Calvary Child Development Center never even suggested not enrolling him for the following year. It was only after school started and the boy was in his classroom that the director said he was not allowed to attend anymore.
In a similar situation, Lucas Dunning started having medical issues a few weeks after starting school. From November 2014 to January 2015, Lucas had 3 instances of what was perceived by Calvary as seizure like activity. Despite Calvary reporting that Lucas "appeared to be losing oxygen", 911 was never called. After numerous testing, doctors believed it was abdominal migraines. Elated with the news that their son did not have a seizure disorder they made plans to meet with his teachers to share the good news and give them 4 doctors notes from the cardiologist, neurologist, hospital doctor, and pediatrician that he was cleared to attend school and would not need any accommodations. The parents never got that chance as they received a call from the director of Calvary, Pat Collis one day after their son was hospitalized saying he could not attend school for at least 30 days until they got their son's medical "issues" under control.
The Brundage family’s son Carter, a veritable ball of energy and only child, was attending the School’s daycare program in 2015 when he was diagnosed with a severe allergy to oak. As a result, Carter had to take Benadryl and Claritin daily during the pollen season, which can affect behavior. Around the same time, the teacher and Ms. Collins started complaining about Carter and pressuring the family for him to be “evaluated” by its handpicked educational therapist. Although the therapist was not qualified to diagnose, she indicated possible Sensory Processing Disorder and recommended further evaluation. Carter’s pediatrician disagreed that Carter had the condition or required further formal evaluation, yet Ms. Collins demanded that Carter be further evaluated at Southeast Psychology. This time the family didn’t give in, but that didn’t stop Ms. Collins and the teacher from suggesting to the parents that Carter had ADHD or sensory problems. The teacher even suggested that Carter go on medication. Thereafter, Ms. Collins repeatedly sent Carter home during the day, which was a problem since both parents work. When the family wouldn’t withdraw Carter voluntarily, Ms. Collins concocted a reason to expel him. On his last day, Ms. Collins said that Carter (then age 3) definitely had something, ADHD or sensory and there was nothing they could do for him. To this day, Carter has not been diagnosed with any of these conditions and went on to do well at his new daycare; it was all in Ms. Collins’ head.
Jaxon Shaw has a speech language disorder that can make it difficult for adults to understand him sometimes, and that’s resulted in him having some developmental delays. Other than that, Jax is a vibrant, happy, sweet little boy. The Shaw’s registered Jaxon, who was nearly six, for the School’s 2015 10-week themed Summer Fun Daycare for kindergarteners to 2nd graders. Calvary cashed the check and the Shaw’s thought everything was a go. About a week before starting the Summer Fun daycare program, the Shaw’s learned that Ms. Collins had unilaterally re-assigned Jaxon to the regular day care program without the Shaw’s permission. Ms. Collins said that the camp population was big, and that Jaxon couldn’t keep up. Jaxon’s mom, Carmen, fought to at least have Jaxon try the summer program, but Ms. Collins refused and placed him in a class with children over one year younger than him. Three weeks into the traditional daycare program, the School apparently couldn’t even tolerate Jaxon there and kicked him out. Ms. Collins explained that Carter was a “special” boy who needed more patience and that the School just couldn’t accommodate him. Jaxon’s cardinal sin was not getting in line fast enough. The Shaw’s had to scramble to find Carter a place with the summer already underway. The Harris YMCA accepted Jaxon into one of its camps with open arms where Jaxon ended up doing just fine keeping up.
School plays an important and consistent role in children's lives. To have the opportunity to learn and engage with their peers taken away when experiencing medical issues is disheartening to these children and their families.
Being Faith based, all families looked to Calvary as a source of comfort when going through these challenging times. While none of the families asked for accommodations that would disrupt other children in the classroom, they were all told their children were not welcome anymore. A school in a church should be lifting you up in times when you're most vulnerable and instead Calvary took the opportunity to kick these children out of the preschool program. Not only did the families have to work through the stress and worry of their child having a medical issue but they had to disrupt their children's lives even more by removing them from their friends and their day to day routine.
We want Calvary Child Development Center to adopt their policies in conjunction with the American with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act of 1974.
We want the director and all personnel staff to attend training on the obligations of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.
And, in a school as large as Calvary with over 800 children, they should provide a registered nurse present at the school during the school day.
While all four children do not require major accommodations, children with disabilities should not be limited to where they can attend. Parents should be able to work with the school in determining if that school can provide a safe environment for their child.
If you know of anyone else in the same situation, please visit www.vankampenlaw.com
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