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Buffalo student with disabilities can return to school

"He'll be back"
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Posted at 6:04 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 18:04:16-05

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — A Buffalo school family is celebrating a victory to get their child back in a Buffalo Public School classroom.

A ten year-old boy with disabilities, who is unable to wear a face mask, will finally be able to return to school for in-person learning after the family filed a federal lawsuit against the Buffalo Public School District.

“Getting him back in the classroom was the most important thing,” Rebecca Izzo remarked.

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Rebecca Izzo, attorney, represents family.

Attorney Izzo filed a federal lawsuit last week against the district and Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash.

It identifies the ten year-old boy only as J.S., a 5th grader with Autism, ADHD and Pica, a disorder where he craves and eats non-food items, making him unable to wear a face mask at school.

The boy has been out of school, in remote learning, for 22-months, but his family says he needs to return to in-person learning.

His father, Edward Speidel of south Buffalo, has repeatedly urged the district to get his child back in school including an appearance at a city school board meeting in December.

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Edward Speidel of south Buffalo, boys father, speaking at a December Buffalo School Board meeting.

“My son has a constitutional right to be in school, just like ever other child. This is uncalled for. How can you punish a ten year old autistic boy because he can't wear a mask?” Speidel questioned.

“He’s gone to every board meeting. He's gone to special education meetings. He even called the governor. He did everything he could possibly do. He’s been fighting this for months and nobody was listening — they kept saying they were working on it,” Izzo explained.

The district's face mask policy issued last July offered an exemption for students who could not wear a mask to be allowed to wear a face shield.

But then in August, the district issued a change.

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Lawsuit filed against BPS.

“August 2021, the district changed their policy and said unless you can wear a mask, all day you cannot come, so then he was forced to remain on remote learning this entire year as well,” Izzo explained.

But then the family filed the federal lawsuit and the district has now reversed its policy again.

“We filed the federal lawsuit on Wednesday and here we are less than a week later and they've agreed to change the policy,” Izzo noted.

Izzo says the August policy is no longer being enforced. The district is now going to consider similar requests on a case by case basis.

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P.S. #156 Olmsted School.

The student will finally be able to return to his classroom here at the P.S. #156 Olmsted School February 7 wearing a face shield.

"Less than two weeks from today and he'll be back," replied Izzo. “We’re grateful that our client can finally be back in the classroom, where he deserves to be — it’s ashamed that it took a federal lawsuit to get him there."

The boy will return to school, but the family is still seeking compensation in the lawsuit.

We reached out to the district for comment and received the following statement:

"The matter is still an active litigation file, and therefore, the District is refraining from comment on the matter at this time."  

Nathaniel J. Kuzma, General Counsel, Buffalo Public Schools