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More families join lawsuit against Calvary Church

Calvary is a nondenominational evangelical church on N.C. 51 in south Charlotte. About 850 children attend preschool or day care at its child development center, according to the church’s website.
Calvary is a nondenominational evangelical church on N.C. 51 in south Charlotte. About 850 children attend preschool or day care at its child development center, according to the church’s website. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Six more families have come forward to say their children were forced out of Calvary Church’s child development center because of medical conditions or developmental disabilities.

The families are listed in an amended complaint to a lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court in January. The original lawsuit was filed by two couples who said their preschool-aged children were expelled from the center after they developed medical conditions.

Calvary is a nondenominational evangelical church on N.C. 51 in south Charlotte. About 850 children attend preschool or day care at its child development center, according to the church’s website.

Calvary’s lawyer, Mel Garofalo, said the church hasn’t been given a copy of the amended complaint filed Wednesday and doesn’t know what’s in it. But claims in the original lawsuit are without merit, he said.

“My clients strongly disagree with the allegations that have been made against them,” Garofalo said in a statement. “While I do not think it is appropriate to comment on pending litigation or to try disputes like this in the press, I can state that Calvary and Pat Collins (the center’s director) will vigorously defend themselves against these unfounded allegations through the legal process.”

The original lawsuit claims Collins expelled a student diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and another child who developed abdominal migraines.

In the amended complaint, Thomas and Elizabeth Brundage say their 4-year-old was dismissed in September after the school erroneously perceived him as having ADHD and/or a sensory disorder.

Johnathan and Carmen Shaw say their 5-year-old was denied admission to Calvary’s special summer camp day care in June and relegated to the regular day care before being kicked out because he had developmental delays.

The amended complaint filed by lawyer Josh Van Kampen also cites four older cases:

▪ In September 2003, a 3-year-old was dismissed after Collins learned he had a speech and developmental delay.

▪ In December 2009, a 1-year-old was denied admission because she had a genetic retinal disease that made her blind in both eyes.

▪ In January 2011, a 2-year-old was denied admission because he had a prosthetic leg.

Lori Robbins told the Observer Thursday that she was told her son would be a liability to the center and a distraction to other children. The family soon enrolled the boy in the St. Gabriel Catholic Church preschool with no problem. The family now lives in Clover, S.C., where her son, now 6, starts at left tackle for the Clover D2 Blue Eagles football team, Robbins said.

▪ In September 2013, a 3-year-old was denied admission because he had nut allergies.

“These children, and likely many others like them who have not yet come forward may not be cookie cutter, healthy kids ... but they are God’s children,” the complaint says. “Indeed, disabled children and their families are the ones who needed to be embraced and loved at the School and could have benefited the most from the leg up Calvary provides in early education.”

The statute of limitations has expired for the families in the four older cases, but they will testify to show a pattern of discrimination, Van Kampen said.

Doreen Byrd, lead parent educator for the Davidson-based Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, has 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, she said.

The lawsuit says that while Calvary could voluntarily abide by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act, it hasn’t. But, the lawsuit contends, Calvary can’t discriminate against children with disabilities under the N.C. Persons with Disabilities Protection Act.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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