A child with special needs cannot be excluded from a field trip based on his disability. Not because “We don’t have a nurse to go on the trip” or “We’re afraid your son may elope,” or any other reason related to his disability.
If your child is excluded, get it in writing. If the school sends you a note, you’ve got it. If it’s a phone call, follow up with an email: “Thanks for calling today. I just want to be clear that what you said is XYZ.”
Then follow up with the special education director: “Yesterday I was informed that my son is not welcome on the field trip because…which I believe is in clear violation of ADA/504 Act. Please let me know when we can meet to resolve this, as he very much is looking forward to the event and should not be excluded based upon his disability.”
If the school stands firm or wants to require you to go as his chaperone, continue to push. Is he being treated differently than his peers? Do all children with special needs have to have a parent?
IEP and field trips
The school must follow your child’s IEP while on the trip. If she gets a 1-on-1 or a nurse or a sign language interpreter, or whatever support in school, she gets it on the trip.
If it is not resolved, call the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) or a local disability rights agency. OCR complaints take time to fill out, but this is pretty cut and dry and shouldn’t take long.
If none of the above has worked and you wish to pursue the issue, find a disability rights lawyer or special education lawyer.
Behavior and discipline
Can students be excluded from field trips because of behavior? The short answer, is no. The school may be leery about bringing your child on the trip out of fear he will act out, but they still have to accommodate his IEP and behavior plan. They cannot come up with impromptu discipline rules, such as, “He eloped four times, so we are not letting him go on the trip.”
Earned field trips
In some circumstances, clubs or teams may take a special trip based on their performance. Let’s say your school’s chess club has 30 members, including your child, and plans to take the top 10 players to a special match. Your child is an excellent chess player, you believe he is definitely among the top ten on the team. You believe he’s being excluded because of his Aspergers and the fact that not many other kids like him.
Ask the coach or club leader what criteria were used and how you can help your child be successful. Sometimes coaches make decisions we don’t agree with. Try working with them and get them as an ally to see how important this activity is to your child.
Set up for succcess
You want your child to succeed. Frankly, many field trips are overrated. Does your child even want to go? Even with her full supports on the trip, do you feel she can be successful?
As appropriate, discuss all concerns with your child. Help her be successful. If you really don’t think she can handle this, don’t send her.
Parents have the best gut instincts. Follow them.
Do you want to chaperone?
Ask yourself: Why do you want to go? Is it because you feel that your child truly cannot be successful unless you go? Or is it because you’re anxious about him being in a new and different environment without you? If it’s the first one, try to work with the team and explain your concerns, and why your presence will help your child be successful. If it’s the latter that is something you have to work through.
But one of the best things we can do for our kids is to let them experience things independently and be successful without us, no matter how much that hurts.