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Lawsuit: Garden City Schools Discriminate Against Special Needs Students

Melanie Donus

Melanie Donus (far right) is one of three parents suing Garden City schools, claiming they treat her special needs children like second-class citizens. (Credit: CBS 2)

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Three Long Island mothers – all tired of battling school administrators – are now going to do battle in federal court over claims that their disabled children are being discriminated against in public school.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, the lawsuit by three mothers claims the elite Garden City School District has a policy of holding down students with special needs, and that the district essentially views them as second-class citizens.

One former student, Danya Stropkay can only speak with the help of an electronic device due to a neurological disorder. But she is getting a college education – proof, according to her mother, that she could have finished high school.

“If we had left it up to Garden City Schools and their predetermination, she would not be in college because she would not have gotten her diploma,” said her mother, Denise Stropkay.

Another of the mothers, Melanie Donus, said she’s fought Garden City schools for years for an aide for her children — all three of whom have autism.

“We just get worn down and worn down, and that’s their strategy — to wear you down until you just give up,” Donus said, “or you run out of money like I did.”

Donus is moving away, but not before filing the lawsuit.

Federal law guarantees a public education to all students regardless of disability, but the mothers’ attorney said he has been contacted by parents around the country who claim districts skimp on services for disabled kids.

“These parents have to go to various meetings and hearings, and what have you, and bring very expensive advocates with them just to get what they are entitled to. If you don’t have the money to do it, you’re out of luck,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Morelli “And that’s not right.”

Special education services are paid for with local, state and federal funds. The moms said they can only guess at why they’ve been denied, and said the treatment of their children at the schools is bringing down their test scores.

They said the fault lies not with parents and children who have embraced their special needs kids, but with the district’s policies.

The Garden City school district issued a one line statement, reading: “We do not comment on matters under litigation.”

The Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, which represents school boards island-wide, also declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit.

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