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A lawsuit filed in federal court last week by two Bucks County families claims Pennsylvania’s coronavirus school closures have denied nonverbal and partially verbal autistic children an adequate education.
A federal lawsuit filed last week claims school closures in Pennsylvania have effectively left out students on the autism spectrum from getting an education.
Two Bucks County families are suing Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Education over “wholly inadequate” online courses for nonverbal and partially verbal autistic students.
The lawsuit is asking a judge in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania to order the state add in-person education for children with autism as an essential service.
Court documents claim Wolf’s administration “made no allowance” for the needs of autistic students when closing schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wolf ordered schools closed on March 16 as the novel coronavirus began spreading through the state, prompting schools in most districts to move to remote classes online.
That order banning in-person classes was extended through the remainder of the school year on April 9.
“Many times, nonverbal and partially verbal children with autism do not transfer skills they learn in the classroom to the home environment thus making online learning incompatible with in-person learning,” court documents state.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are only referred to with pseudonyms for privacy reasons.
The court documents state the lack of resources for autistic students runs afoul of two federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
In order to successfully litigate a claim under the ADA, the plaintiffs must have a qualifying disability.
Two 7-year-old children, referred to as Brennan and James, and their respective family members are named as plaintiffs in the court documents by first name only to meet that ADA requirement.
Court documents state James is a nonverbal Central Bucks School District student, while Brennan is a partially verbal autistic student at an undisclosed school district.
Partially verbal autistic students can find speaking difficult or “impossible” at times, court documents state.
Autistic students often require one-on-one lessons using communication aides, which include picture boards, speech-generating devices or even gestures, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also criticizes the administration’s order closing non-essential businesses several weeks ago, including waivers for some businesses to remain opening as “life-sustaining.”
Stores making or selling Tobacco, fireworks and even Wolf’s own former York-based cabinet and office supplies business, Wolf Home Products, were granted waivers to remain open.
“Put another way, (Wolf) has deemed companies that manufacture products he deems as ‘dangerous’ as, in fact, ‘life-sustaining’,” the lawsuit states, referring to tobacco businesses remaining open.
The lawsuit called the waiver process allowing some essential business to continue operating as “opaque, arbitrary and capricious.”
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