By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter
CROSSVILLE (WATE) - A third grader in a wheelchair was devastated Friday when he couldn't go on a field trip with the rest of his class. Stone Elementary School in Cumberland County said they couldn't find a driver for the wheelchair-accessible bus. The grandmother of Holdan Crawley, 9, called 6 News upset and wanting answers. So we investigated if it was legal to leave him behind.
We contacted the Tennessee Department of Education, the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee, and the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. They all agree that under federal law, schools are generally responsible for transporting a disabled student on a field trip, just as they do for able-bodied students.
"We were very excited about this field trip. His grandpa took off work. His five year old sister was going to attend. Really this was going to be our first family outing since his accident," said his grandmother Pam Flowers.
Flowers said Holdan suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash two years ago.
"He completely understands what you're saying to him, but he's been non-verbal since the accident," Flowers said.
In addition to his homebound teacher, Holdan attends Stone Elementary three hours a week.
"We started sending him to school basically for socialization," Flowers said.
A special bus takes him to school and insurance pays for his transportation to the doctor, but other than that, Holdan doesn't leave the house. So he had his permission slip and money all ready for the zoo, with his family to follow the school bus in their car.
"We've been telling him, really counting down the days until he would go," Flowers said.
Then came the phone call yesterday.
"It was just nonchalant that they found a bus, but they couldn't find a driver so Holdan won't be able to go to the zoo," Flowers said.
She said the whole family was devastated.
"It's just blatant discrimination. It's not fair to him. I want him to be treated just like you would your child," Flowers said.
She filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and called school officials. We sat down with Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Donald Andrews to find out why Holdan was left behind. He apologized and said it was a mistake and a miscommunication.
"We were told there was not a driver to take the child. We can't use that as a reason not to take a child on a field trip. We know that and everyone feels horrible about what happened," Andrews said.
"It should never happen again. I'm sorry is not good enough. This falling through the cracks is not good enough," Flowers said.
After 6 News started looking into this story Friday morning, school officials called Holdan's grandmother saying they had found another bus driver. That was several hours after his classmates had already left and the zoo is 90 minutes away. The school district has also offered to take the whole family to the zoo next week, but the family said the point was for Holdan to go with his class, just like everybody else.
Holdan's family has entered an online contest to win a wheelchair accessible van, hoping to take him to places like the zoo.
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