September 2, 2015, was supposed to be 12-year-old Aiden Killoran's first day at Westhampton Beach Middle School. But Aiden and his family were informed recently that he wouldn't be able to attend, because the school claims it doesn't have the resources to assist the middle-schooler, who has Down Syndrome.
On Thursday (Sept. 3), MTV News spoke to Aiden's father, Christian Killoran, who said the fight to get Aiden through the school's doors has been figuratively -- and literally -- difficult.
Back-To-School Was Anything But Typical For Aiden
"We've been told that we would be trespassing if we entered upon school property," he told us. "Today represents the second day that all [Aiden's] classmates appeared for school and walked through the doors of Westhampton Beach Middle School, so for the second day in a row, we've been denied that." (Full disclosure: This reporter's a graduate of the Westhampton Beach School District, and attended the elementary, middle and high schools.)
Christian explained that about a week and a half ago, an attorney for the Westhampton Beach School District sent his family a letter, saying that if he and/or anyone from his family came on school property, it would be considered trespassing and therefore grounds for arrest. He added that the school had also issued a temporary restraining order request.
The School District Says Aiden Has Other Options
MTV News also reached out to Michael Radday, the superintendent for the Westhampton Beach School District, who said that, "In accordance with New York State and Federal privacy laws, the District is legally prohibited from discussing individual student matters and cannot comment on pending litigation." However, he provided a general statement about the district's special educational programs:
The Westhampton Beach School District offers a variety of special education services to students from pre-school through age 21, including resource room, integrated co-taught classes, and in-district special classes designed to meet their unique educational needs.
Our staff of classroom teachers is supported by other professionals, including: speech therapists, psychologists, social workers, reading specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and guidance counselors -- to name just a few. Together, we work to do the best we can for each child, every day.
In certain instances, the District may not offer a specific, specialized program to meet the needs of an individual student. In these cases, we coordinate with one of our educational partners to offer an out-of-district placement. By partnering with a well-established program in a neighboring district or at BOCES, we can ensure that each child experiences the best possible educational opportunities, allowing them to reach their fullest potential.
But Aiden's dad isn't convinced by the school's claims.
"That's their coined answer," he argued. "Here's the fact that they can't deny: Westhampton Beach has never, in its entire history, educated an alternately assessed special education child throughout post-elementary education, ever. They've never, ever done it in their entire history.
"They simply do not want the hassle of dealing with Aiden and this type of special education student," he added.
Is It Even Legal To Keep A Middle-Schooler From Enrolling In A District Public School?
So is the school breaking the law? Susan Mizner, who specializes in disability counsel for the ACLU, explored the question with MTV News.
"Technically, a district can concentrate resources for students with disabilities in one school where they are still integrated with students without disabilities but have staff well-trained in meeting their particular needs," Mizner said. "But, all disability rights laws -- including the IDEA -- strive for full integration. That means students with disabilities, such as this young man, can stay with their peers -- and not be siphoned away because of the limitations of a particular school.
"What especially concerns me is the allegation that this middle school has never taken a student with a disability," she added. "A 'disability-free zone' violates not only the law but any reasonable person’s conscience."
Christian said that he and his family had made efforts to ease Aiden's integration into middle school.
"We came to [the school district] over two years ago in an attempt to be proactive about this -- in an attempt to introduce them to our family and Aiden, and to talk about the transition," Christian said. "And at that time, they always gave us the same coined answer, and that was that Aiden had yet to vest into their jurisdiction because he was still technically in K through 6 within Remsenburg School District.
"And now they perversely use the argument that they're under the gun," he said.
Aiden's Friends Are Protesting To Get Him Back To School
In the midst of the controversy, on Wednesday, Christian and what he estimated to be about 100 local residents, gathered near the Middle School, to protest the school's decision.
"So many people had come up to myself and my wife, Terrie, and talked about how they have been victimized by this district in the past," he said. "Parents who have children younger than Aiden and fear for the educational well-being of their children as they progress through the system, came up to me -- parents who have typical children, who are just deplored by Westhampton Beach's stance and also sad for their children, because they're being deprived of Aiden's friendship now."
Aiden's family has filed a lawsuit against the Westhampton Beach School District, which is currently pending. In the immediate future, Christian said that he wants to "explore creative ways" to inform people about Aiden's situation with the school. "We're looking to essentially get the community to -- at least the community that supports us -- to join on in a public matter, he said."
Christian said the Remsenburg School District has agreed to educate Aiden while the litigation continues, but that the situation is less than ideal.
"Up until yesterday, we were shielding him from the reality of him being deprived of the opportunity to continue his educational path with his peers," Christian said. "But now, the realization of the situation is coming to bear and we need to start now mitigating the damages."