A family in Memphis, TN, is suing their local school district after they say their son didn’t receive the support he needed. The lawsuit claims that since moving to Memphis two years ago, Kevin Bardwell, Jr., 9, has not received the educational assistance he requires from the school district. Bardwell Jr. has autism, an intellectual disability, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The lawsuit alleges that the school system has not met its legal responsibilities. Those responsibilities include identifying and evaluating students with disabilities. The lawsuit also says that the school district does not have enough employees to support students like Kevin Jr.
The Bardwells had three hearing dates in the spring, and in May, the administrative law judge concluded that the Bardwells were successful in a number of allegations, including that MSCS had broken federal disability law in Kevin Jr.’s case for at least a full academic year, including a duty to identify his disabilities and design and implement an adequate individualized education program (IEP).
The administrative court recognized that Kevin Jr. was denied the educational services he needed during the first, largely virtual school year of the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020–21; he did not decide that these violations continued throughout the entire school year in 2021–22.
Throughout my time in public school, I sometimes struggled to get the services I needed for my disability. I was fortunate that my parents advocated for me and helped me get what I needed. My teachers often devised solutions when I had trouble accessing the curriculum. In my geometry class, the teacher had me use a graphing calculator. In anatomy and physiology, the teacher used a 3D skeleton to help me identify bones and muscles. I am forever grateful that my teachers helped me when I couldn’t do things the same way as my peers. I never felt any less important because of my disability.
In college, however, it has been much harder to get accommodations. I have to request accommodations weeks in advance. Colleges aren’t obligated to provide accomdations unless a student asks for them. Remote learning made this even more challenging. I went without services such as note-takers for weeks. It was also hard to contact my advisors. I was never registered for all my classes this spring despite sending numerous emails and meeting with my advisor via Zoom. I hope my experience at Greenfield Community College this fall will be better than at my previous university.
All students should be able to get the help they need in school. Without support, many students fall through the cracks. IEPs are a helpful tool, but only if they are kept up to date. However, it is also essential for educators to know that a student is more than a diagnosis written in their IEP. Every student is unique, with their own hopes, dreams, struggles, and strengths.
Testino, Laura. “Memphis Shelby County Schools Violated Federal Disability Law, New Filing Claims.” The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 19 July 2022, https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/education/2022/07/20/memphis-shelby-county-schools-disability-law-violation/10093630002/.