Supporters of a family's push to have a child with Down syndrome attend classes at Westhampton Beach Middle School rallied on the first day of school to say he should be educated alongside peers in his home community.
Yesterday morning, more than 60 people joined the parents of Aiden Killoran, 12, in pressuring the Westhampton Beach district to offer him support services and instruction as part of a class that moved from the elementary grades in the Remsenburg-Speonk schools to seventh grade in the district, rather than place him in a separate program for special-needs students.
Aiden's parents, Christian and Terrie Killoran, filed a federal lawsuit against the district last month for not providing the program they believe their child is entitled to under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
Westhampton Beach officials, citing privacy issues and the litigation, have not spoken publicly on the specifics of the case. The district issued a statement yesterday saying it is committed to offering "a variety of special education services to students from preschool through age 21."
Many of those at the protest wore bright green T-shirts that read "We Want Aiden" and "Integrate Don't Segregate," which they also chanted. The child was not at the demonstration, but he was driven past it a couple of times, and he waved as the crowd cheered.
"This is a worthy cause for the children with Down syndrome that are being segregated from the community that they have known," said David Assalti, 64, a retired contractor holding a sign that said, "Keep Aiden in our community."
The Remsenburg resident said his granddaughter has attended school with Aiden since prekindergarten and he should be able to join her in the Westhampton Beach district, which provides middle school and high school instruction for kids from Remsenburg-Speonk schools.
"Now they want to segregate him, for what reason? Because it's easier for the school system?" Assalti asked. "This is not right. This segregation thing is disgusting, and society segregates people enough without having to do it to our children."
The district's statement said its teachers and other professionals offer special education services to students, "including resource room, integrated co-taught classes, and in-district special classes designed to meet their unique educational needs."
"Together, we work to do the best we can for each child, every day," the statement said. "In certain instances, the district may not offer a specific, specialized program to meet the needs of an individual student" and will "coordinate with one of our educational partners to offer an out-of-district placement" at neighboring schools or BOCES.
The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, asks that the district be ordered to admit the child under an Individual Education Program, or IEP, for classes with a one-on-one teaching assistant and resource room help, as well as physical and speech therapy several times a week. Federal and state education laws indicate that students with disabilities need to be placed in the "least restrictive" environment, often in regular classes and as close to home as possible.
"Ultimately, what's right is going to prevail," said Christian Killoran, 46, an attorney, who said a special-education program enriches the school offerings for all students and makes financial sense. "It's actually more fiscally responsible to educate the kids internally, because you are not paying for the outsourced tuition, for the outsourced transportation."