Feds join lawsuit alleging school kicked out boy with autism

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice is joining a lawsuit filed by a woman who accuses a private Montessori school of violating federal law by kicking out her son, who has autism.

Rebekah McClelland said Ruffing Montessori School administrators in Rocky River informed her last year that her son, Manny DeJesus, couldn’t return.

Cleveland.com reported Thursday that court filings allege the Cleveland Heights woman was told the class size was too large to accommodate the boy’s needs.

The school — located about 10 miles west of Cleveland — uses the Montessori teaching method, which stresses training of the senses and proceeds by guidance and self-direction rather than by restricting students’ activities.

McClelland sued in September, accusing the school of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also filed a complaint with the Justice Department, which joined the case in March. Ruffing could now be forced to pay a civil penalty and monetary damages if found liable.

McClelland told the newspaper she wanted to talk about the case because Saturday is World Autism Awareness Day.

“I truly need for this to change, but what we went through is extremely hard,” she said.

When asked what she wants to get out of the lawsuit, McClelland responded that she “would like for us to be whole again.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heyer filed a motion last month that said the department has an interest in enforcing the law to end disability discrimination in private elementary and secondary education.

Ruffing said in a statement that it believes it complied with federal law, though it couldn’t comment on any student’s educational record or on the specific accusations because of federal privacy laws.

“Ruffing Montessori looks forward to addressing the allegations of this lawsuit in court,” the statement said.