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The Oakland Press
By Jerry Wolffe
January 4, 2011
The mother of a 14-year-old visually impaired Catholic school student says Oakland Schools has revised its policy and will provide large-print books for her son.
"I think ifs great and she was very apologetic and pleased to provide accommodations," said Dina Vailliencourt about Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie L. Markavitch.
Markavitch told Vailliencourt Monday afternoon that Oakland Schools will try to provide her son, Sean, with large-print textbooks for his classes "within a week."
Sean, who is legally blind and an eighth-grader at Guardian Angel Catholic School in Clawson, was denied large-print textbooks when the school year began, his mother said.
"We were spending five hours a night using regular-print books to try and keep up," Vailliencourt said.
Markavitch planned to tell the Oakland Schools board meeting Monday evening that the district hired a new legal team and it found a law in the state Constitution that requires schools to provide accommodations for disabled students in parochial and private schools, as well as those who are home-schooled.
"The (law firm of) Clark Hill believes that Oakland Schools may continue providing accommodations for visually impaired students under the health and safety provisions of state law and because the small number of students across the county that require such accommodations results in only a minor contribution to private education," a statement by Oakland Schools' Markavitch said.
"Oakland Schools remains committed to providing quality educational services to all Oakland County students and their families while maintaining our commitment to our legal and fiscal responsibilities.
"I am grateful to the Royal Oak parent (Vailliencourt) for advocating for her son's education and bringing this issue back to our attention," Markavitch added.
"I apologize to the family for the inconvenience our initial action caused and am very pleased that the additional research done will allow us to resume our previous practice of providing large print and Braille books to all Oakland County students."
Disabled students in public schools never lost their accommodations.
Oakland Schools, which represents 28 districts in Oakland County; had denied accommodations to private students such as Sean partially as a result of sharply declining property tax revenue.
Vailliencourt, of Royal Oak, said the district wanted her to pay 20 cents per page for large-print books in black and white and 25 cents a page for large-print books in color for her son.
"We can't afford that," she said. "This is wonderful not only for Sean, but for all the children who need accommodation."
Attorney Richard Bernstein had threatened to file a lawsuit against Oakland Schools in U.S. District Court in February if the school system, which serves 222,000 students, refused to provide accommodation as required under two federal laws-the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
On Dec. 22, or a day after The Oakland Press published the first story about Sean being denied large-print books in class, Oakland Schools said it was going to review its policy.
Two weeks later on Monday, the first day officials returned from the holiday break, the policy was reversed.
Bernstein was ready for a lengthy court battle.
The reason this was going to be such a huge legal fight is because the stakes could not have been higher;" he said when learning of Oakland Schools' decision to provide large-print books to Sean.
"No less than the education of disabled children in America was at stake," said Bernstein.
"When the stakes are so high you have absolutely no choice but to fight and win."
It wasn't until 1975 that Congress passed a federal law requiring that disabled students receive an education at public expense. That's 21 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. the Board of Education that separate schools for black students was unconstitutional. Until 1969 in North Carolina, it was a criminal offense to seek an education for a student with a disability.
''A disability should never require a parent to choose between a religious upbringing and the education of their child if the child is disabled," Bernstein said. "We are very pleased that Oakland Schools has made the right decision to follow long-standing law to provide all disabled students with accommodations necessary for their education.”
“We were simply ready to fight for this student's right to read a book."
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