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August 3, 2003

Mother Takes Day Camp To Court

From: Hartford Courant, CT - Aug 3, 2003

Aide Not Permitted To Attend With Hearing-Impaired Boy

By LYNNE TUOHY, Courant Staff Writer

Donna Kravetz's quest to send her hearing-impaired son to summer day camp has turned into a campaign to educate the public and avenge what she claims is a blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kravetz has filed a federal lawsuit against High Meadow Day Camp in North Granby, which was willing to admit her son to its eight-week program this summer, but would not permit a paraprofessional who had accompanied him two previous summers to attend.

Reed Kravetz, who turns 8 this month, has cochlear implants on both sides of his head. The implants electronically stimulate the cochlear, or hearing, nerve, permitting a hearing-impaired person to electronically perceive sound.

The device has three components: a receiver, which is surgically implanted above the ear, an external microphone and a speech processor. Reed received his first cochlear implant for his right ear at age 23 months; the second was implanted in his left ear in June.

Reed's hearing impairment is deemed to be severe, but because he had his first implant at such an early age, his speech is flawless. He is entering third grade at Eastbury School in Glastonbury, where paraprofessionals are assigned to accompany him to and from school and are with him throughout the school day.

The paraprofessional is necessary, the lawsuit says, to help prevent injury to the implants' external equipment - which cannot be bumped or touched, and which can be damaged by the type of electrostatic discharges that can occur when one slides down a slide. Reed also must remove the external components before swimming. The paraprofessional also helps Reed socialize and follow instructions because he doesn't always hear conversations. Glastonbury special education officials agreed this summer and in past summers to provide a paraprofessional so that Reed could attend camp.

Donna Kravetz, a doctor of internal medicine, called in March to make arrangements to send all four of her children, ages 5 to 13, to High Meadow, which they attended in the summers of 2000 and 2001. Camp director Chuck Washer, according to the lawsuit, told Kravetz the camp's policy had changed and that although Reed was welcome, a paraprofessional would not be allowed to accompany him.

Washer did not return phone calls seeking comment. Attorney Domenico Zaino Jr., who represents the camp, said he is still reviewing the allegations in the lawsuit and had no further comment.

Kravetz said Washer had told her in March that he might make an exception for Reed because Reed had attended the camp in the past. But, she said, when she phoned the camp in May to confirm her children's attendance and make payment arrangements, Washer was steadfast in his refusal to allow a paraprofessional to accompany Reed.

"[Washer] specifically said to me that we are not a special needs camp, and cannot accommodate Reed," Kravetz said. "Reed does not need a special needs camp. He is normal. There's no reason we can't have him integrated in a normal situation.

"I want him to be like everyone else, and we treat him like everyone else," Kravetz said. "He's a smart child. He just can't hear."

Kravetz changed her plans in time to place all four children in Renbrook Summer Adventure, a day camp at the Renbrook School in West Hartford, which they had attended last summer. The only drawback, said Kravetz, a single mother, is that Renbrook's summer session lasts six weeks, rather than eight. But Reed's paraprofessional was not an issue.

Attorney Gary Phelan, who represents Kravetz, said that one reason she is suing High Meadow "is to make people aware."

"Their plans for summer camp for the family get wiped out because this day camp is completely clueless when it comes to disability rights," he said.

Phelan said the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, applies to a range of "public accommodations, camps and law offices among them."

"The statement by the camp that we're not a special needs camp is not a defense," Phelan said. "You don't have to be. The ADA was really intended to change all that. All public accommodations are expected to address the marketplace of people with disabilities. There's widespread disregard for this, and it's only when someone takes legal action that people become aware of it."

Kravetz's lawsuit claims that High Meadow Day Camp intentionally discriminated against Reed because of his disability, and it seeks unspecified damages.

Copyright 2003, Hartford Courant