Complaint: Portland schools discriminated

PORTLAND — Three families have filed a complaint against Portland Public Schools that says district officials unfairly denied their disabled children entry to a program for gifted students.

According to the families, test results show that their children were otherwise qualified to attend the district's Access Academy program, The Oregonian reported. Two of the families obtained documents showing that officials annotated application forms with handwritten notes linking admission with the students' disabilities.

On one of the forms, a student was recommended as having "potential" for admission to Access, but someone added "Not with current staffing." On another, someone noted that the student had "support needs."

A lack of staffing would not excuse the district for violating the American Disabilities Act, which forbids eligibility criteria that screen out individuals with disabilities. State law requires school districts to provide talented and gifted services to qualified students.

"I was thinking it was happening — never in wildest dreams did I think it would be as black and white," said Nicole Iroz-Elardo, a complainant whose son has Asperger's. "I was shocked. I never thought they would put it in writing."

It's not unusual for qualified students to be rejected from Access, which has a waitlist and requires parents to present a compelling case for why the students would benefit from the program. But the parents' complaint argues that it's illegal to use a student's disability against them.

The complaint says the district is using a "bait and switch" tactic by encouraging parents to detail students' behavioral issues, then using that information against the applicant.

Portland Public Schools spokeswoman Courtney Westling said Friday the district cannot comment on the complaint until looking into it further. "We take this type of complaint very seriously," she wrote in an email.

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