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Parents of PHS student claim ADA rights violated

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Parents of a 17-year-old disabled student at Paonia High School are at odds with the school administration over whether their son should be allowed to walk in school.

Alex Hood was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects body movement and coordination, and suffered a stroke at birth. He defied a medical prognosis that he wouldn't survive, said parents Marc and Kristen Hood. Doctors then said he would never walk, but by age 2 he was walking. Throughout his life he has relied on a walker, and uses a wheelchair when he's too tired to walk, said the Hoods.

The Hoods said that the district was very accommodating at first. But in mid-March they were called to a meeting to discuss Alex's Individual Education Plan (IEP). "The room was full of people," said Kristen Hood. They were informed that Alex would not be allowed to walk and would be required to use a wheelchair at all times. The Hoods said they became angry and walked out of the meeting.

The IEP says to let him walk, said the Hoods. They said they have requested a copy of the IEP, but haven't received one.

Later in the week the school's occupational therapist took his walker away and told him to sit in the wheelchair, said the Hoods. At that point, said Alex, he got mad and told her he didn't want to use the wheelchair. "I'm trying to walk," he said.

"That's the first time he's stood up to anyone," said Kristen Hood. "That's not right."

The Hoods claim that in forcing him to use a wheelchair the school violated Alex's rights under the ADA. They also claim the district barred him from boarding the school bus that picks him up and drops him off at his home, and that the school violated HIPPA policy that governs individuals' rights to privacy of their medical records.

Delta County School District superintendent Caryn Gibson said the district cannot directly comment on the situation. The district seeks to ensure the safety of all students, and is following all applicable laws, said Gibson. Because the district respects the rights of all parents and students, and because they care, the district will not comment.

"That's really hard because people don't have the whole story," said Gibson.

The Hoods said they enrolled Alex at PHS the first week of January, but he started the second week because the school needed to bring the bathroom into compliance with the ADA. Gibson said the bathroom was already ADA compliant, but the school wanted to make it more accessible and comfortable. All of the district's schools are in compliance with the ADA laws, said Gibson. "As a district I think we do a very good job of accommodating all students."

Alex has fought hard to be able to walk, said the Hoods. He was born with bent legs and scoliosis -- curvature of the spine -- and has undergone years of therapy. Deep scars on his back and legs mark the many painful surgeries he has endured to straighten them out so that he could walk.

The Hoods said they chose Paonia because of its goal-oriented programming. Alex's twin brother attends Vision Charter Academy. Alex says he likes PHS. He's made friends, and the students are very nice to him.

Prior to enrolling at PHS, Alex attended Montrose High School, where, say the Hoods, he was encouraged to walk. They understand that with a new school comes a learning curve, but they didn't expect this. "We have fought some major fights for our son," said Marc Hood. "But this is one fight we never thought we'd have to face."

Mark Hood said Tuesday that the issue has not been resolved and that they are considering all their options. Hood said that because his education is very important to him, Alex is attending school and using the wheelchair. "He is continuing to fight for his rights," said Hood. "And not just for his rights, but for all the disabled."

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