PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - A North Port family is taking action against the Diocese of Venice, saying their son was discriminated against and dismissed from school because of his disability. But the school says, they simply could not accommodate his needs.
11 year old Joshua Fleszar has Asperger's Syndrome. It's a neurological disorder similar to autism. To someone who's unfamiliar, he may seem like a normal child just behaving differently.
For Fleszar, his Catholic faith is everything. "It's really important to me because I really want to make it to heaven."
For the last 2 years, he attended St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte. He has an IQ approaching 140. But Asperger's Syndrome often makes classwork tough. Usually I daydream in class, but I'm trying to focus as much as I can. His parents say the school understood, but their son says he received little compassion or support from teachers, getting yelled at and even sent to the principal when he was caught daydreaming.
"I'm born and raised Catholic and this whole situation is heartbreaking, disappointing, frustrating," Joshua's father David said.
In June, they got a letter telling them St. Charles didn't have the facilities or personnel able to address Josh's needs, citing factors of class size and lack of full-time assistants.
"They just kicked me out," Joshua said.
"He wonders, why didn't they want me back?" David said.
So the family has filed a civil rights complaint for discrimination with the U.S. Department of Education. Diocesan schools receive funding from the McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program, but Joshua’s parents say it’s under false pretenses.
According to a statement issued by the Diocese, McKay Scholarships are given to families directly, who can use the scholarship at a school of their choice. It is up to individual diocesan schools whether to accept students, if they have the scholarship or not.
“Note that the family in question has never presented themselves to St. Charles Borromeo School with a McKay Scholarship. The family paid full tuition for the two years the student attended the school,” a portion of the statement reads.
"We strongly believe in Catholic education," David said. "Despite the negative experiences he had at this school, there are a lot of positives about Catholic schools that we want."
"Jesus said, let the children come to me. He didn't say, let the children come to me... except for the ones with disabilities," Joshua said.
Joshua has since started at a new school, where's he doing well. The Diocese tells us, all Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Venice strive to provide a good Catholic education with strong academics and values for parents who desire this for their children. They support two schools for children with special needs: Father Anglim Academy in Fort Myers and Dreams Are Free at Bishop Nevins Academy in Sarasota.They say all efforts are made where possible to accommodate children with mild learning disabilities, although Catholic schools are not required to do so.