A federal judge in Tennessee has ruled that the Hamilton County school system violated multiple federal guidelines protecting students with disabilities when it removed a second-grader with Down syndrome from Normal Park Elementary School in 2013.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that Judge Curtis Collier concluded that the school district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
Collier's rulings could have implications for other parents who believe their children with disabilities could benefit from inclusion in regular classrooms and could force the Hamilton County Department of Education to rethink its approach to special education.
The case revolves around Luka Hyde, who was removed from Normal Park Elementary in Chattanooga and segregated from his peers in a comprehensive development classroom at Red Bank Elementary. Luka's parents, Deborah and Greg Hyde, contended in their lawsuit that Luka should not have been removed.
Collier's decision about the ADA and Section 504 is based upon a previous ruling; he determined in November 2016 that Hamilton County Schools violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by placing Luka in an environment that was "more restrictive than necessary."
In the comprehensive development classroom, Luka's interactions with students without disabilities would be limited, and the curriculum would be more focused on developing life skills than academic aptitude.
About 80 percent of students with intellectual disabilities attending Hamilton County Schools are separated from peers and placed in comprehensive development classrooms for most of the school day, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Education.
Since being removed from Normal Park in 2013, Luka, now 13, has attended The Montessori School and will be enrolled in middle school classes this fall.