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Somewhere in Texas

Sep 2016

A Director of Parks and Recreation in Texas emailed RAC President John McGovern with a great question: From previous posts on NRPA Connect, I recognized your expertise in this area.  Recently a question came up from staff and they are seeking direction.  Can you offer some advice?

Yesterday, an after school staff member had an incident with one of the participants. The participant is autistic.  We met with the parents last year and staff dealt with other incidents with her but were able to manage through the year. However, yesterday, the first day of school, participant was reported to be out of control, hit two other participants and a staff.  The father was called and he took her home. But because we have 50 children and only two staff, the staff, with supervisor’s approval, told the parents they could not bring participant back until further notice.  The mother called me this morning and during our conversation she said she will be calling the Autistic Society. I told her to give me a chance to find out what happened and after talking to staff I will support her decision to suspend her for the time being as we have a safety concern for the other children.  We are working with a possible suspension as we would with any other child.

I know we have to conduct assessment and then accommodation.  I don’t think we can outright exclude, but on other hand how to handle children who are out of control?  I’ve heard that accommodation can be having a one on one attendant (most time intensive and expense).  Are there other alternatives?

The question posed by the Director is pretty common.  Here is our answer:

Thanks for reaching out.  We usually recommend that agencies follow an eight-step inclusion process.  There is a lot of detail, but it typically includes:

  • Invite people with disabilities to register alongside people without disabilities
  • Tweak your registration system so you ask if a reasonable modification because of disability is needed for participation (don’t use the word accommodation, that is an employment term)
  • Conduct an assessment (these three words stand in place of about a 20 page report to you)
  • After the assessment, make a plan for modifications that meet the registrant’s needs and match the requirements of the program

NOTE: a key here is knowing in advance what reasonable modifications your Agency will implement and which modifications the Agency will not implementI usually divide modifications into three categories: mandated supports, personal supports, and quasi-medical or medical supports.  This too is a long discussion.  But one thing is clear…the mandated supports are all in the black-and-white of the regulation, or come as a result of court decisions.  El Paso has to provide these, and they generally include extra staff, changes to rules and policies, adaptive equipment, adaptive transportation, removal of architectural barriers, finger-prick test for blood sugar monitoring, sign language interpreters, behavior plans, and more.

  • After making a plan, train the necessary staff.  This may include, if the assessment warrants it, a one-to-one staff, or it may just include a floater or other staff in that program.  Tracy, if there are only 2 staff for 50 kids, I am almost certain you’ll need a one-on-one.
  • At this point or before, communicate with the family of the registrant.  Let them know you want the child in your Agency programs and here is the plan you have to support her.
  • Then…implement the plan.  Sounds odd to say this, but a lot of times we see plans implemented incorrectly, resulting in a failed placement.
  • Finally, the eighth step is to evaluate the way in which the plan was implemented.  Needless to say this too is not as simple as it sounds.

Staff should never say a suspension is indefinite.  Describe suspensions as temporary, only until a new plan can be made, or the current plan can be revised.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this newsletter is legal advice. It is instead a relaying of decisions and information about the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to public parks and recreation. Readers interested in legal advice should seek an attorney licensed in your state that knows the ADA and can apply it to parks and recreation.