Tag Archives: Disability News

NOLA Charter Schools Accused of Failing to Provide Help for Students with Disabilities

NOLA Charter Schools Excluding Students with Disabilities

Parents of special-needs children have filed a lawsuit against the New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy–or Sci Academy, as it’s known–and six other privately-run charter schools in New Orleans, claiming that these publicly-funded, privately-run schools have been excluding students with disabilities from school activities NOLA and failing to provide those enrolled with the special help they need.

According to one account, 200 students at New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy were invited to watch a broadcast of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey presenting a million-dollar check to the school principal and participated in a band celebration afterwards, but one student was excluded from the activities–a 16-year-old 9th grader with emotional and learning disabilities. School administrators were concerned that his aggressive behavior would embarrass them, according to his great uncle. The boy required speech therapy and intensive counseling, which the the Sci Academy failed to provide. Instead, the school repeatedly suspended the boy and prohibited him from riding the school bus with the other students, according to an attorney representing the boy.

NOLA Charter Schools Excluding Students with Disabilities

School records revealed that another charter school in the area recommended that a student with depression be expelled after she cut herself with a scissors in class. An administrator and aide at another area school carried an agitated third-grade boy into an empty room and restrained him until the boy urinated on himself. Administrators at yet another charter school ordered a former special-education coordinator to stop talking to parents after she advised them that their children should be getting more services than they were receiving.

Both charter and public schools are required by federal law to educate and accommodate students with disabilities. Many charter schools don’t follow the rules, however, choosing to simply exclude such students or decline to provide the services they need, and it’s all because of money. According to the director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit research group, charter schools receive less tax money than public schools. Therefore, they can’t afford to take in students who will cost tens of thousands of dollars to educate.

NOLA Charter Schools Excluding Students with Disabilities

In addition to the academy that received Oprah’s donation, the other New Orleans charter schools accused of discrimination include ones that receive donations from Microsoft’s Chairman Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family, and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. These sizable donations are still not enough to make up for the funds afforded to well-funded district schools, however.

A 2010 Ball State University study found that charter schools receive an average of $9,460 per student in federal, state and local funds, amounting to roughly 19 percent less than public schools. The charter schools that do get special-education funding regularly do not get enough to adequately serve students with serious disabilities.

A former White House staffer who oversaw federal special education programs stated that charter schools’ exclusion of special-needs students is a measure to help protect their school budgets. Funding necessary to go toward educating these students might go toward hiring more teachers to reduce class size instead. The former staffer also stated that charters have been known to exclude students with disabilities to improve reported academic results of the schools, since special-needs students tend to score lower on standardized tests.

NOLA Charter Schools Excluding Students with Disabilities

Todd Ziebarth, vice president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said that charter schools need to form cooperatives so they will able to accommodate special-needs students, especially those with serious disabilities. The superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District agrees, stating that the New Orleans is pushing to establish cooperatives so that charter schools will have the resources necessary to serve students with disabilities.

For more on this topic, watch this interview with one of the litigating parents from the lawsuit:

For more information on the New Orleans Sci Academy, watch this video covering Oprah’s Angel Network 2010 donation and the goals of the school itself:

UPDATE: Please see the statement posted in the comments section addressing the Bloomberg allegations directly by the Principal and Founder Board Chair of Sci Academy, including a response from the attorney representing one of the children at the school.


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Research Breakthrough Identifies Common Cause Protein in ALS

ALS Researcher Teepu Siddique, MD

Researchers have discovered a common cause among the different forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known in North America as Lou Gehrig’s disease: a protein called ubiquilin2. For more than two decades, Dr. Teepu Siddique, professor of neurology at Northwestern University, and his research team have been searching for the cause and underlying mechanism of ALS, which leads to paralysis and eventually affects a patient’s ability to breathe or swallow on their own.

Dr. Siddique and his colleagues have discovered a common cause among the different forms of the neurodegenerative and eventually fatal disease – a protein, ubiquilin2, undergoes a critical mutation and fails to perform its task of recycling other damaged and malformed protein cells. Those unrecycled proteins accumulate and begin to interfere with vital nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain, which then no longer properly tell muscles what to do.

ALS Researcher Teepu Siddique, MD

This sort of protein degradation pathway is what contributes to ALS and possibly other degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and even Alzheimer’s.  At the very least, such a discovery could lead to better strategies to treat these diseases.

It’s still not clear what may lead to ubiquilin2 malfunctioning. ALS occurs sporadically, hereditary in about just 1 in 10 individuals. Although ALS afflicts approximately 350,000 people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds worldwide, research into its cause has been difficult due to true study only being available at autopsy, when pathologists can test brain tissue for these protein issues.

The study’s co-author, Dr. Han-Xiang Deng noted, “Abnormality in protein degradation has been suspected, but there was little direct evidence before this study.”

The Northwestern University ALS Research Team

When a patient is alive, however, the signs and symptoms of a neurodegenerative disorder can sometimes look very similar to other motor-neuron disorders. In fact, one group of neurologists recently speculated that the face of ALS, baseball player Lou Gehrig, may not have actually died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but perhaps instead from a traumatic head injury-related form of neurodegeneration termed chronic traumatic encephalomyopathy due to repeated concussions.

Right now only one drug has been approved for the treatment of ALS, and it offers just a slow-down of the disease’s progression. New treatments for ALS would be very welcome, and Dr. Siddique and his team are excited to have helped unlock the pathway there.

“This is the most hopeful I have been in 25 years of research,” said Dr. Siddique. “Previously, we were running in many different directions, but this is where we will focus from now on.”


Wheelchair Accessibility Not a Priority at Hollister Clothing Store Chain

Inaccessible Hollister stores

The Hollister clothing store in the Colorado Park Meadows shopping mall was recently cited by a local judge for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing adequate access for individuals who use wheelchairs. Wheelchair accessibility is a major concern for shoppers with physical disabilities, and violations of the ADA can often go unpunished. This was not the case in Colorado when the US District Judge Wiley Daniel ruled that the store was in clear violation of the ADA.

This ruling comes after two years of legal wrangling between Colorado residents and the Hollister stores, which are a brand owned by Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Five wheelchair users and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition took on the clothing giant in a lawsuit in 2009, citing that the store did not provide clear wheelchair accessible entrances. The wheelchair users claimed discrimination because the main entrances to the store were not wheelchair accessible. The main entrances were built to resemble porches with steps leading up to the doors.

Inaccessible Hollister stores

The filers of the lawsuit claimed that the entrances violated the ADA because these main entrances were not on ground level and had to be accessed by taking steps. According to the law, all main entrances must be equally accessible to individuals with and without disabilities, and entrances cannot be “segregated” or split into disabled and non-disabled access.

The stores claimed that they were following the law by providing wheelchair accessible entrances at the side of the building, to either side of the main porch entrances. Hollister also claimed that these accessible doors were not separate from the main entrances and that they were used by the general public as well as individuals with disabilities.

Inaccessible Hollister stores

The judge ruled that the Hollister stores did violated the ADA by not providing equal access to all and by segregating their disabled entrances. According to the Denver Post, the judge stated that the clothing store “took a micro view” which allowed them to comply with details in the regulations without taking the aims of the ADA to heart and fulfill its “overarching aims.” Judge Daniel told the Denver Post, “To say that the issue of which door is used by the majority of customers is a genuine issue of fact ignores the obvious.”

For continued reading, this is an interesting first-person take on navigating a different Hollister store from a wheelchair:


Vanderbilt’s New ‘Bionic’ Leg Mimics Natural Movement

Vanderbilt University's Bionic Leg

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have recently invented a new electronic prosthetic leg that allows amputees to move more naturally. Conventional prostheses can cause pain and muscle stiffness for amputees because they do not move in the same way that bones and muscles naturally move. This new cutting edge prosthetic leg avoids some of these issues by using new technology to create powered joints that operate together to provide a smooth, natural gait.

The lower leg prosthesis has been dubbed a “bionic” leg because it uses technology such as motors and batteries to power the leg, but it relies on sensors to monitor and control motion. Sensors monitor changes in the user’s balance and muscle movement and send signals to the microprocessors to control the leg movement. Electric motors in the knee and ankle joints then complete the movement using battery power. The prosthesis weighs in at around nine pounds, less than a human lower leg, and uses over 30% less energy to operate than conventional fixed leg prostheses.

Vanderbilt University's Bionic Leg

Craig Hutto, the 23-year-old amputee who tested the leg for Vanderbilt University, told Science Daily about his experience with the new prosthesis:

“When it’s working, it’s totally different from my current prosthetic. A passive leg is always a step behind me. The Vanderbilt leg is only a split-second behind.”

The new “bionic” leg allows for a wide range of movement, providing amputees with the ability to tackle obstacles, walk up and down slopes, and even avoid falling. Amputees can easily navigate stairs, and an innovative anti-stumble routine in the microprocessors that control the leg helps users regain their balance if the sensors report that the user is beginning to lose balance.

“Going up and down slopes is one of the hardest things to do with a conventional leg,” Hutto stated. “So I have to be conscious of where I go, because I can get very tired walking up and down slopes. But that won’t be a problem with the powered leg, because it goes up and down slopes almost like a natural leg.”

Craig and Goldfarb with Vanderbilt's Bionic Leg

The powered prosthetic leg has been in development at the Vanderbilt Center for Intelligent Mechatronics for seven years. Research grants were given to the project by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Work is still being done on the “bionic” leg in order to give amputees more mobility and ease of use. The electronics within the leg are constantly being tweaked as researchers refine the prosthesis for manufacture by Freedom Innovations, a company that specializes in lower-limb prosthetic devices. Developers are also trying to make the leg quieter and lighter.

Check out the video below to see where they’re at now: