Two Mecklenburg County couples have sued Calvary Church, saying its child development center expelled their preschool-aged children after they developed medical conditions.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, claims the center’s director expelled the students after one was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and the other with abdominal migraines.
Parents Luis and Amaya Borjas and Jon and Lucinda Dunning told the Observer they filed the lawsuit to prevent other children from being expelled for medical conditions. The lawsuit claims the children were discriminated against under the N.C. Persons with Disabilities Protection Act, and that the church should have made “reasonable accommodations” for them under the law.
“He gets sick and he gets kicked out. It’s unfair,” Amaya Borjas said of her son. “It’s not only unfair, it’s unbelievable that it happens in a church.”
The Borjas and Dunning families spoke during an interview Tuesday at the office of their lawyer, Joshua Van Kampen
Church officials declined to comment about the lawsuit, referring questions to the church’s attorney, Mel Garofalo. He said neither he nor the church has been given a copy of the complaint and therefore cannot respond to any of its allegations.
It is not clear how successful a lawsuit could be.
Doreen Byrd, lead parent educator for the Davidson-based Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, said day care centers cannot expel a child from a facility simply because of a medical diagnosis. She added that other issues could also be involved in a center’s decision to expel a child.
But Byrd said that private child care agencies, such as Calvary’s, wouldn’t face requirements as strict as those for publicly funded ones. For example, a private facility may not need to accommodate medical requests that would be disruptive to other children.
“They don’t have to fundamentally alter their program,” Byrd said.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday says the Borjases’ son attended the Calvary center for two years before he was diagnosed with diabetes in March 2014 at age 4. His parents routinely visited the school during lunch to monitor his blood levels, and pricked his finger with a glucose meter, the lawsuit says. They adjusted the amount of carbohydrates in his lunchbox depending on the level.
In June 2014, his condition worsened, requiring him to receive insulin injections. That August, Amaya Borjas told their son’s new teachers that she would return at 11:15 each morning to check his blood-glucose level and inject his insulin, according to the lawsuit.
Amaya Borjas later asked the head teacher to give the boy gel packs if he said he was feeling “low” at any point in the morning before Amaya or Luis Borjas arrived to inject the insulin, the lawsuit says.
When Luis Borjas arrived to inject the insulin one morning, he was told by the center’s director, Pat Collins, that their son could no longer attend the center, according to the lawsuit. Collins told him that the teacher threatened to resign if he returned, but that his condition wouldn’t have been a problem if Collins had a school nurse, the lawsuit says.
Luis Borjas then volunteered to donate the money to hire a nurse but his request was denied, according to the lawsuit. “ ‘I don’t care how much it costs,’ ” Luis Borjas recalled telling Collins. “ ‘I’m doing it for the church.’ ”
The Dunnings’ son was expelled in January 2015 after he was diagnosed with abdominal migraines after turning pale and collapsing at the school, the lawsuit says. He was barred from returning even after the Dunnings told Collins they had medical clearance for his return. The boy has never had the condition again, Lucinda Dunning said.
Collins told them Lucas’ teachers were “uncomfortable and scared” in dealing with him and were not equipped to handle his medical issues, the lawsuit says.
The couples enrolled their sons at Morrison Family YMCA, which had “absolutely no reservations or issues with accepting children who are not perfect pictures of health,” the lawsuit says.
The couples want a jury to determine monetary damages and order center staff to undergo training on their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They want the church to provide a registered nurse at the center during the school day.
“This happened to two families within five months of each other,” Van Kampen said. “We’re investigating whether this happened to other families, and we encourage anyone with evidence or information to come forward.”
Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak