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District denies parent's claim

Mother complains that disabled son is being disadvantaged because accommodations are not being made.

December 12, 2013|By Hannah Fry

The school board voted unanimously this week to deny a claim alleging the Newport-Mesa Unified School District failed to accommodate the needs of a disabled middle school student.

Rebecca Martens filed the claim on behalf of her son, a seventh-grader at Corona del Mar Middle School, urging the district to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, by making all of its school sites accessible for handicapped students.

The ADA requires schools to provide the disabled with an equal opportunity to benefit from all programs, services and activities provided by that institution, said Martin Orlick, a partner specializing in ADA compliance defense at the law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell in San Francisco. The firm has no role in Martens' complaint.

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He further explained that disabled students should have the same opportunity to learn as fellow students and that the assistance required would depend on the type of disability. A deaf student, for instance, would need accommodations different from someone with a leg injury, Orlick said.

Martens' claim states that last year at Lincoln Elementary School, employees failed to provide wheelchair-accessible tables in the boy's computer and art classes and seating in the covered lunch area, as well as easy-to-use restroom doors and wider paths of travel to and from the playground area.

The issues have continued at Corona del Mar Middle School, the complainant said in an interview.

[My son] comes home with stains all over his clothes because he has to eat lunch without a table every day," Martens said.

While she has attempted to notify the district of these problems since the boy started attending Lincoln Elementary in the fourth grade, the district has failed to cooperate, she said.

A spokeswoman for Newport-Mesa declined to comment on the claim, as did school board President Karen Yelsey.

The boy was born with a leg condition that requires him to undergo numerous surgeries to lengthen the bones. While he has limited mobility at home, he is confined to a wheelchair during the school day to protect himself.

"If he were to trip and fall, the bones in his leg would shatter like glass," Martens said. "They're like an egg shell, basically hollow inside."

Despite his physical limitations, the boy is a typical seventh-grade student with a girlfriend, a passion for science and dreams of becoming a surgeon, the mother said.

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