“Emily, since she was 18 months old has had about eight surgeries to correct a birth defect in her leg,” says Pam Wysocarski, Emily’s mother.
Surgeries which have left her with a leg brace and even using a wheelchair at times.
“The school has provided an environment where she has never been excluded from any activity,” says Wysocarski.
Good Shepherd school will close at the end of the school year and while many of Emily's friends will transfer to other Catholic schools, her family is having a tougher time finding the right Catholic school.
“When making the choice of where to send our children, Catholic education was very important,” says Wysocarski, “and we've not found so far, an environment where she can go that is handicapped-accessible completely and that would offer her the nursing services she would need.”
Wysocarski says Good Shepherd school is ideal for many children with disabilities because it is built on one level for the most part. In the one case where kids need to come downstairs to either worship or attend music class, there is a handicapped accessible ramp for kids like Emily who may need a wheelchair.
“When we close schools that allow for handicapped-accessibility, we restrict options,” says Wysocarski, “for how they're going to be able to accommodate children like Emily where she could continue a Catholic education in an environment where she can be included in every activity. “
As of right now, Emily may have only one choice.
“I don't see an option of her staying within the Catholic School System. I mean, despite the fact that that's what we might want for her educationally, that our only option is to go to the public school system.”
“Public schools are definitely covered and there's a lot of litigation and legislation that covers the public schools...so that's cut and dry. They're required to be accessible. It is not as applicable to private, religious schools,” says Bruce Darling, executive director of the Center for Disability Rights, “it's a bit up in the air. People are not exactly sure how it falls, we believe however, that the schools are public and do have some requirements.”
Darling says while private, religious schools may not be required to provide accessibility for people with disabilities like public schools, there is be an obligation to do so.
“So we have the accessibility in place so we really think the Diocese needs to consider accessibility when making these kinds of decisions. And we believe it is covered under the law.
It's something Emily's mom agrees with strongly.
“We've essentially excluded them from the Catholic School system and I think that's making a pretty strong statement on how we value students and students specifically with disabilities.”
The Diocese of Rochester did respond to our calls Wednesday evening. Officials say that while their decision to close 13 area schools still stands, they are sensitive to children with disabilities within the schools. Currently, Cathedral at Holy Rosary, Christ the King, St. Joseph, St. Lawrence and