By Alex Distefano
Jason Thompson, a Riverside-based disability rights attorney, has only been practicing law for a year, but is already shocked over a current client’s predicament. “Everything else aside, when it comes down to in this case, it’s all about being a decent human being,” Thompson told the Weekly.
So, what is it that Thompson is so appalled over? It seems that his client, the family of an 11th-grade student at Ayala High School in Chino Hills, might now have to sue the school along with the Chino Valley Unified School District, for violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This all goes back to October when, according to Thompson, a baseball coach at the school refused to let the 17-year-old junior—who suffers from cerebral palsy—join the school’s junior varsity baseball team.
“I found out about this case by the boy’s mother in early December,” says Thompson, who is representing the family. “He played on the freshman baseball team, but was not allowed to play his sophomore year . . . [The] way I understand it, for whatever reason, the JV coach did not want him on the team.”
Thompson said the parents mentioned that they decided to let it go, but were also frustrated at other issues they were having at the school.
“This boy is one of the only deaf students at Ayala High, and his parents have gotten a lot of pressure to put him in a special school for the deaf,” Thompson says. “From what they tell me, everyone seems to feel they know the [best] placement for him, and have this attitude that he should be in a different school.”
But, according to Thompson, the family is reluctant to place their son in an all-deaf school, because he can speak (although he is limited), and in schools for the hearing impaired, sign language alone is emphasized.
Thompson said that despite the student’s medical conditions, he continued to play on the all star league and experienced no problems. As a junior, the 17-year-old tried out for the junior varsity team earlier this year and ended up rejected by the coach, the attorney says. The family eventually decided to consult with Thompson about possible legal recourse.
After meeting with the family, Thompson said he thought the school had an obligation to accommodate the son.
“There are federal and even state laws that protect people with disabilities, and require public schools to give equal access to these people,” he says. “Their son was devastated. He just wants to be on the same team as his friends—not even to play, [just] to participate, which makes it worse.”
Thompson contends that the school staff, administrators and district officials need to show some compassion in this case.
“I think they can do this without harming him or any other players,” he says. “There is a way to accommodate him. One of the arguments I’ve heard the coach use is that if they made an exception for him they would have to make an exception for other kids who weren’t good enough to get on the team. But this is ridiculous; his mother already made it clear he just wants to be a part of the team with his friends.”
On Dec. 12, Thompson says he delivered a letter to the school’s principal and the school district’s superintendent to inform them of the alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Thompson mentioned that the family will take their fight to federal courts if necessary to get what they are calling a “compassionate inclusion, rather than a callous exclusion” for their son.
Thompson said that if the case goes to court, he is confident that he will have support.
“I have letters of support from many organizations in the legal field willing to help me if we need help with litigation,” he said. “. . . This whole thing is just ridiculous. Aren’t sports about teaching life lessons and being a good sport and being a good character?”
Thompson said that the student’s mother has taken a year or more trying to get the school to allow her child to simply be part of the team.
“She has pleaded and begged them to let her kid simply be a part of this junior varsity baseball team, and keep in mind [that] this is a teenager with a disability.”
Officials with Ayala and the Chino Valley Unified School District did not respond to interview requests for this story.