Kayla Collins is a senior at Windham High School this year. Courtesy photo

WINDHAM — The federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into Windham High School after the family of a student claimed that the school discriminated against their daughter, who has medical disabilities.

Kayla Collins, 18, has a rare condition called 7q11.23 duplication, which manifests for her in anxiety, an enlarged aorta and enlarged blood vessels in her brain. Those with 7q11.23 duplication may have delayed development of speech and motor skills or have problems with intellectual development and behavioral issues. 

Kayla is a senior at the high school, and her family’s complaints “had to do with (the school) not being responsive to her education plan and her medical issues,” her father David said. 

Superintendent Chris Howell was unable to speak to the Lakes Region Weekly about Kayla’s case because federal privacy law prohibits him from talking about a student unless he has a release signed by the student’s family. The family would not sign the release. Director of Student Services Lisa Garneau could not discuss the case for the same reason.

The Collins family claims that the school assessed Kayla unfairly during tryouts for the field hockey team, for instance by docking points when she missed tryout days for medical reasons.

Kayla plays on the school’s junior varsity team, and “my coach still starts me in the starting line-up,” she said, although she can only play for a few minutes each half.

The family also says that the school did not admit Kayla to the National Honor Society because they did not understand her application, due to her communication disorder.

The district claims, David Collins said, that Kayla was not admitted because she did not demonstrate leadership skills in her application.

Collins plays on the school’s junior varsity field hockey team. Courtesy photo

In addition, the Collins family says, the district has not been adequately implementing Kayla’s individualized education plan, or IEP.

In a 2013 “Dear Colleague” letter regarding access to extracurricular activities, the federal education department’s Office for Civil Rights writes that “simply because a student is a ‘qualified’ student with a disability does not mean that he student must be allowed to participate in any selective or competitive program offered by a school district; school districts may require a level of skill or ability of a student in order for that student to participate in a selective or competitive program or activity, so long as the selection or competition criteria are not discriminatory.”

A copy of the letter was provided to the newspaper by both the family and Disability Rights Maine.

The letter later continues that “a school district must make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, or procedures whenever such modifications are necessary to ensure equal opportunity.”

The Collins family filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in December.

Whenever a family makes a complaint, Howell said, “The Office for Civil Rights is required to make an investigation. They are required by law to go through a process (and determine) whether or not there’s any merit to the complaints.”

Depending on how the investigation goes, David Collins said, “it could still become a lawsuit if the investigation is found in our favor.”

“The Office for Civil Rights would make the determination of whether or not there’s any merit (to the complaints),” Howell said. “Just because the Office for Civil Rights opens an investigation doesn’t mean there’s been any wrongdoing.” 

Kayla has been admitted to Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, where she will study in the school’s medical biology/veterinary program.

Disability Rights Maine declined to comment on Kayla’s case.

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