Boy’s exclusion from playground goes before judge

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The parents of a home-schooled Falmouth boy with a form of autism, who has been banned from a public school playground, say they still hope their son will be allowed back at the playground when school opens in less than two weeks. Gayle Fitzpatrick and Charles Rankowski went before Judge Thomas Humphrey on Friday in York County Superior Court seeking an injunction to allow their son, Jan Rankowski, 9, to use the Plummer-Motz School playground in Falmouth during recess. Jan was banned from the playground last fall by school department officials who said Jan, who has Asperger’s syndrome, had broken playground rules by swearing at teachers and a principal, following earlier reports from children that he was hitting and throwing rocks. Since then, the parents and the school district have been unable to come to an agreement on how to allow Jan back on the playground. His parents deny that their son swore or hit other children and that other behavior the school officials found objectionable is a symptom of his disorder.
School officials say the playground ban was temporary and the parents declined to work with the school district to come up with a plan to allow Jan back at the playground. Children with Asperger’s often have trouble understanding social behavior, such as facial expressions and verbal cues. Jan has been home-schooled for several years, at the expense of his parents and Medicaid. At Friday’s hearing, Kennebunk lawyer Ronald Coles, who represents the family, said Falmouth school officials had practiced a very selective form of discrimination against both the disabled and the home-schooled. “This is not education law that is relevant here but discrimination law,” Coles said. During the three-hour hearing, which drew several advocates for people with autism, Fitzpatrick said since her son’s banishment he has grown depressed, a common symptom of Asperger’s, isolated and has gained 20 pounds. Melissa Hewey, Falmouth’s lawyer in the case, questioned Fitzpatrick about whether the school had been fully informed about how to deal with his behavior on the playground. “Are you telling us your son’s behavioral issues are to be addressed by you and not the school?” Hewey asked. Fitzpatrick said she had never asked the school to be responsible for her son. Coles is scheduled to call several more witnesses when the hearing continues Monday. http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/news/local/040821playground.shtml

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