When the family of a 13-year-old girl applied to Cabrini High School and Mount Carmel Academy, two Roman Catholic schools in New Orleans, they said they received similar responses: schools could not accept the student with cerebral palsy . because of their disability.
“I want to tell you that we are unable to take your child in. She’s just precious – maybe one day I’ll meet her,” said Sister Camille Anne Campbell, President of Mount Carmel, on a voicemail from the attorney the family. “However, we do not have accommodation and I think our academic program would be very difficult for them.”
Now the family is suing both schools in federal court in New Orleans. Her attorney claims the schools are subject to anti-discrimination laws for accepting federal funds to help businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
The girl, a seventh grader who lives in Jefferson Parish, uses a wheelchair and has an assistant to help her. The lawsuit alleged that the disability did not prevent the student from keeping an honor roll or receiving French awards from a previous school.
Federal lawsuits do not require plaintiffs to identify themselves if a child is involved, and the separate lawsuits identify the family by initials. The lawsuits are aimed at judicial relief to prevent schools from seeking “discriminatory behavior” and compensation.
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At Cabrini, the girl was told she could not have the adjutant because it was against school policy, and officials did not respond when she asked for follow-up discussions after a complaint filed on Nov. 16. At Mount Carmel, the family were told the school would not be a good fit because of “the number of buildings” and “the number of floors in the buildings,” according to voicemail quoted in a lawsuit filed on Oct. 26 has been.
A campus map shows that the 9 acre campus has 11 buildings that are approximately four stories tall.
Typically, religious schools have some protection from discrimination lawsuits because of allegations that they are not required to comply with the provisions of the American Disabilities Act, a federal law that provides protection for people with disabilities who are similar to those on the basis of race. Color, gender, national origin, age and religion. It contains exceptions for religious institutions in accordance with Section 307 of the Statute.
But the family’s lawyer, Chris Edmunds, said Cabrini and Mount Carmel don’t enjoy that protection now because they accepted the popular Paycheck Protection Program loans, the federal emergency funds for businesses in the face of coronavirus and related difficulties.
Shelly Howat, a lawyer representing Mount Carmel, said the allegations against the school were false and the law was misquoted.
“It is not a complete or accurate representation of all facts and applicable law,” Howat said of the lawsuit. “As a lawsuit has been filed and the matter is currently under litigation, we cannot comment on any details. However, we are confident that the Mount Carmel Academy has complied with all applicable laws. A core value of the Mount Carmel Academy is to Treat Everyone Respect and compassion, and that was done under the circumstances. “
Officials with Cabrini did not respond to a request for comment.
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To participate in Cabrini or Mount Carmel, families complete an Archdiocese of New Orleans application for Catholic high schools. The schools take into account grades and standardized test results and have entrance exams.
Archdiocese of New Orleans spokeswoman Sarah McDonald did not respond directly to the allegations in the lawsuit, but said generally that the Department of Catholic Education has made it a “priority” to provide education to students with special needs.
“Catholic schools in the area continue to develop and expand programs for children with special needs and developmental disabilities, and assist families in identifying the resources available to enable each child to thrive based on their own merits,” McDonald said in one Statement on Monday.
The family Edmunds would not name could not be reached for comment. Edmunds said he wanted to protect the girl’s identity.
In the lawsuits, Edmunds refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973, a civil rights law for the disabled that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal aid.
He also says the schools violated ADA and state law to protect people from “willful discrimination”.
In the interview, Edmunds quoted the Small Business Administration website, which stated that the loan is federal aid that “entails the application of certain non-discrimination obligations.”
“These schools received a $ 1 million to $ 2 million PPP loan in April. That loan is a contract, and one of the conditions is that you don’t discriminate against people with disabilities,” Edmunds said.
This is not the first time this topic has come up. On a July news bulletin, Connecticut-based law firm Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey said schools could be subject to federal lawsuits under the law even though the lenders on the loans are private banks.
Federal data shows that at least 160 schools in Louisiana have received PPP loans of $ 150,000 or more, including non-parochial private and charter schools that are already required to comply with some anti-discrimination laws.
However, Carmody’s lawyers also noted that these “non-discrimination obligations” are unlikely to be permanent as any protection for families disappears when the loan is either repaid or granted.
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The loans were offered over the summer. None of the schools responded when asked whether the loans had been granted or repaid by November.
Applications to Catholic high schools are published on December 9th and are due in mid-December. The entrance tests will take place in January according to an archdiocese schedule.