Federal officials have settled a discrimination complaint against a popular after-school child-care provider in the Washington suburbs, requiring measures to accommodate children with disabilities.
Justice Department officials signed the agreement Tuesday with Bar-T Year Round Programs for Kids in Maryland's Montgomery County amid allegations that it violated Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act when it expelled a student who has autism spectrum disorder.
The student's parents alleged that Bar-T did not properly consider whether it could make reasonable modifications to the program that would allow the student to remain enrolled. The child was removed on the basis of disability-related behavior, they alleged.
Bar-T denied wrongdoing in the agreement and maintained that it has always complied with federal disability law.
Under the agreement, Bar-T will adopt a nondiscrimination policy and create a process for parents of children with disabilities to request reasonable modifications to Bar-T's policies, practices and procedures. If a request is denied, reasons will be provided in detail to parents.
The agreement also requires employee training, designated staff at each location to address issues related to disability law and reporting on compliance.
Bar-T will pay $13,500 in compensatory damages to the student and his parents.
Joe Richardson III, chief executive of Bar-T, said the company serves many children with special needs, including those with autism spectrum disorder, and that the conflict arose when it expelled "a child who was creating a dangerous situation for other children in the program."
"We didn't violate ADA here, and we're going to continue to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act," he said.
Richardson said the company, headquartered in Gaithersburg, already follows the practices outlined in the agreement. "We're going to put more formal systems in place to avoid situations like this in the future," he said.
A Justice Department official said the allegations date to 2013-2014 and that an investigation was opened last year.
Selene Almazan, a lawyer for the family, said the student was a longtime participant in the program, that staff knew of his disability and that the parents were not aware of a problem until he was expelled. "It was devastating to the family, it was devastating to the student," she said.
Bar-T provides child care before and after the school day at about 30 Montgomery public school sites and is the largest such provider in the county. It serves children from kindergarten to fifth grade.
"Through this agreement, Bar-T is taking important steps to make sure that all children in its programs, including children with disabilities, will be given the opportunity to have a positive and successful experience in a supportive after-school environment," acting assistant attorney general John Gore, of the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
Stephen Schenning, acting U.S. attorney for the district of Maryland, said in a statement that the policies Bar-T has agreed to implement "will ensure that its programs provide an inclusive environment for all students."
"Children with disabilities deserve equal opportunities to attend after school programs," he said.