An Austin family is suing The Children’s School after the private institution expelled their 6-year-old child, who is Black and has learning disabilities.
They claim the esteemed school practiced racial and disability discrimination against the student, and are seeking a minimum of $50,000 in damages.
According to the lawsuit documents obtained by Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News’ sister newspaper, the suit was filed with the Circuit Clerk of Cook County on Oct. 6, naming Kwijona Calvin, a resident of the West Side of Chicago, as the plaintiff. Calvin, who is Black, is represented by Horvat Law of Chicago.
Pamela Freese, director of administration of The Children’s School confirmed there is a claim. Freese said she was unable to provide further comment, but said the claim was being handled by counsel.
According to the lawsuit, Calvin said she sought a better education for her daughter because the public schools in her neighborhood, Austin, could not meet her needs. She chose TCS because “TCS suffers from none of the impediments that stunt the academic growth of children attending CPS schools in Austin,” and would provide “superior education opportunities in comparison to those afforded by the Chicago Public Schools,” as stated in the lawsuit.
Representatives from Horvat Law declined to comment on behalf of their client.
TCS is a private school set to offer a “progressive education” for students from kindergarten to eighth grade.
In September, nine of it 11-member board resigned, citing personnel issues, however, in an email sent to families on Sept. 6, six board members signed a statement that said despite their best efforts, they had faced a “challenging time” attempting to preserve and embody “the values upon which this school was founded: diversity, inclusion, empathy, respect for differences, social justice, and a fundamental belief in the value of a truly progressive education.”
Freese said the school would work to appoint additional members to an interim Board of Directors until an election could be held.
The school will be moving to a portion of First Baptist Church of Oak Park on Ontario Street after their current location, old St.Edmund School on Oak Park Avenue, declined to extend their lease.
Before enrolling her child in TCS, Calvin communicated with administrators and took steps suggested by TCS to make sure her child’s needs were being met. According to the lawsuit, this included, but was not limited to:
- Informing TCS of her child’s disabilities, including hyper-sensitivity processing disorder and speech disorder
- Providing TCS with an individualized educational program, or IEP, developed by CPS for the child
- Provided speech and occupational therapy evaluations
- Permitted TCS to speak with her child’s therapist and former teachers
- Enrolled her child in additional occupational therapy
- Agreed to assist TCS in providing individualized one-on-one classroom assistance
- Allowed TCS personnel to visit their home to interact with her child to gain a better understanding of her individualized needs
While the agreement between TCS and Calvin included individualized one-on-one assistance, according to the lawsuit, the child was expelled before TCS provided the assistance. Calvin claimed that TCS had provided similar assistance to children with mental disabilities in the past, but had relayed their experience and their ability to provide an education to Calvin’s child, adding that the child’s needs were not an anomaly and the child “in no way impeded the education” of other students.
“Similarly situated white children were allowed the individualized one-on-one assistance denied [to the child] and were afforded other opportunities and support denied [to the child] despite behavioral issues that impeded the education of their peers,” lawyers said in the filing.
When Calvin entered into a contract with TCS, a $2,000 deposit was made. According to the lawsuit documents, Calvin’s tuition agreement with TCS for the 2022-23 school year was $9,100, which was broken down into seven monthly installments of $1,300.
Calvin’s daughter was expelled from TCS “without any substantive input from Ms. Calvin,” on or about Sept. 29, 2022.
According to the lawsuit, TCS claimed the expulsion was because the child was being “a distraction in the classroom.”
“The actions of TCS in expelling [the child] and denying her participation and the equal benefit of its education program was discriminatory and based on [the child’s] race and disability,” the filing said.
The lawsuit claimed that not only was the reason for expulsion “pretextual” but also that TCS violated their own “Parent Handbook,” which states they do not “discriminate on the basis of race, color … in administration of its educational policies, hiring policies, admission policies, financial aid program, or any other school-administered program.”
The aftermath of the expulsion caused emotional distress, not only to the child, but her family as well, as they had to resort to homeschooling the child until they could find suitable placement, the mother maintained. This, according to the lawsuit, caused “significant difficulties for Ms. Calvin and her family members” because they were “ill-equipped” to manage the child’s education at home.
The lawsuit also claimed that TCS engaged in conduct “that caused severe emotional distress to Ms. Calvin and [the child] including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, and feelings of abandonment and ostracization.”
A court date is set for December 2023.