ACLU of Missouri brought a complaint against Creative Arts Academy for violating the ADA

Gladstone, Mo. – A gymnastics studio must now provide inclusive programs for children with disabilities after it was found in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by the U.S. Department of Justice.

A settlement agreement between the United States and the Creative Arts Academy reveals that the U.S. investigated the allegations brought by the ACLU of Missouri on behalf of three-year-old Bella Crowe. The DOJ and found that the Creative Arts Academy violated the ADA by “imposing unnecessary eligibility criteria that screened out Bella Crowe from participating…by refusing to make reasonable modifications to its programs and services.”

“Going from the excitement of being told my child was ready for socialization to the disappointment of rejection because the school heard the word ‘autism’ was heartbreaking,” said Tia Crowe, mother of Bella. “My daughter is more than a diagnosis – she is a little girl who has rights. I hope this decision lets other parents know this kind of treatment isn’t only unacceptable, it’s illegal.”

While Bella won’t be attending classes at Creative Arts Academy, Tia Crowe says she’s glad their complaint and the subsequent investigation has ensured that other families can now enroll their special needs children in inclusive classes at the school.

“Businesses can’t discriminate based on disability and are required by the law to provide services,” said Gillian Wilcox, staff attorney with ACLU of Missouri. “People who are differently abled often require modifications to services in order to access them in an equitable way. The ACLU works to ensure everyone’s rights are respected.” 

In March 2016, Tia Crowe sought to enroll her daughter, Bella, in a gymnastics class. Bella was diagnosed with autism when she was a year old. After her diagnosis, Bella worked with a behavioral therapist for 40 hours a week.  At the recommendation of Bella’s therapist, Tia Crowe wanted to enroll Bella in a gymnastics class to encourage her development.

In a voicemail from Creative Arts Academy, Tia was informed that Bella could not take classes at the academy because of her disability, as their instructors were not trained to teach students with special needs. Bella’s therapist followed up with Creative Arts Academy and offered to attend classes with Bella but was told it was not allowed.  

In June 2016, ACLU of Missouri sent a complaint letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) under title III of the ADA, in support of Tia Crowe’s claim that the gymnastics school was violating federal law. 

The DOJ agreed with Tia Crowe and the ACLU. Creative Arts Academy reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. and must now make accommodations for children with disabilities.

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