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October 26, 2016

Complaint: N.J. preschool expelled toddler with Down syndrome over potty training

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has filed a formal complaint alleging that a South Jersey preschool expelled a 3-year-old with Down syndrome for not meeting a "corporately imposed" potty training deadline.

The complaint – filed in Superior Court in Burlington County Wednesday against Nobel Learning Communities Inc., which owns Chesterbrook Academy Preschool in Moorestown, New Jersey, – contends that the facility violated the state's Law Against Discrimination.

The toddler was enrolled in Chesterbrook's "Beginner B" classes, which provide "diaper services" for about half a year, according to the complaint. 

When the girl, who isn't being named, turned 3, she was moved to the preschool's "Intermediate" classroom, a decision her parents didn't agree with. In this upper-level class, children are required to be potty trained.

The parents gave the school a note from their daughter's doctor with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia that said she couldn't be potty trained until she was at least 5 years old due to her disability. According to the complaint, the teachers at Chesterbrook still installed an April 1, 2015, deadline for her to be potty trained despite the medical proof.

In an email exchange, one teacher allegedly said that the deadline was a "corporate policy," though the parents understood it to be more of a goal than a deadline, according to the complaint.

The toddler's parents requested that their daughter be placed back in the former classroom where she could get her diaper changed, but Chesterbrook allegedly refused. The academy is also accused of refusing to extend the potty training deadline.

According to the complaint, Chesterbrook then disenrolled the girl on April 1, 2015, and said the toddler "exhibited aggressive behavior" during the transition.

“The State’s position is that Chesterbrook had a duty under the law to accommodate this three-year-old girl – who had been enrolled there since infancy – and that doing so would not have been significantly burdensome or fundamentally disruptive to its services and programs," Attorney General Christopher Porrino said in a statement. "The company’s hardline corporate decision has harmed this child and her entire family.”

Chris McMurry, a spokesperson for Nobel Learning Communities Inc., based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, did not comment on the allegations.

"Due to pending litigation, we are unable to address the details of this specific case; however, our schools are dedicated to serving the needs of a diverse student population, including many with disabilities," he said in a statement. "We are proud of our comprehensive policies and procedures to ensure compliance with state and federal laws governing the rights of all students."