A Cuyahoga County mom claims her son was forced to change schools because of his disorder.
Now, in what could become a landmark court case, Rebekah McClelland is suing Ruffing Montessori School in Rocky River. In a rare move, the U.S. Department of Justice has signed on to the case as well.
In 2015, McClelland claimed administrators John McNamara and Lori Coticchia told her she would need to make new arrangements for her son, 10-year-old Manny DeJesus, because of his autism.
“And I said, ‘But why?’ Like what…and I said, ‘Did you see his test scores? Like, he’s doing well. I don’t understand,'” McClelland told newsnet5.com on Wednesday.
The lawsuit claimed the request was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and she is seeking monetary and punitive damages. The suit also claimed McNamara later backtracked, vaguely telling McClelland her son could remain enrolled, even after her son already notified friends he would be leaving.
“And in my mind I just thought, ‘Why would I put my children in a place like that?’ Not to mention no guarantee that it would never happen again.’”
Ruffing Montessori declined to answer questions on camera about the allegations laid out in the lawsuit, but in a statement, an attorney said, while federal law prohibits them from discussing a student’s academic record, they believed they have always been in compliance with the ADA and looked forward to defending themselves in court.
DeJesus, and his younger autistic brother, are now enrolled in a Cleveland Heights Montessori school, where they are making new friends. The single mom said the adjustment was not easy. They had to move across town and she was forced to put her home photography business on hold.
She hopes the lawsuit forces change and educates other families.
“It’s kind of an exciting thought,” she said, “To open up this door."
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