Learning Disabled Boys Kicked Off Football Team

WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9) -- There's something magic about playing high school football under the Friday Night Lights.

But for Wilson High's first game of the season, a couple of DC boys with learning disabilities have been forced off the team they've been playing on for years.

The boys, their parents, and at least one DC councilmember are furious.

"Football is my life. Wilson football is my life," says Luis Flor, 16. "I need to get on that field."

The high school junior is struggling to figure out why a disagreement between a bunch of adults would leave him and his buddy Kasper Toumala sitting in the stands while the friends they've played football with for two years would take the field.

"I'm just practicing one day and they told me to get off the field," says Flor." And I'm sitting on the sideline thinking, what did I do. I can see all my friends playing. And I can't play. It's just not fair."

Both Luis and Kasper struggle with serious learning and attention issues. But they can play football, and they've proved it in big games at Wilson.

Both are enrolled in the Lab School, a private DC School that focuses helping children with learning disabilities -- but it doesn't have a football team. Kids from the Lab School have played for Wilson before. But a couple of weeks ago, a big change.

"This totally sucks," says Kasper's dad Jari Tuomala. "It really hurts me to watch Kasper be in pain. He really wants to play."

A spokeswoman for DC Schools says Kasper and Luis were probably allowed to play over the last two years under the mistaken belief that they were DC school students. But she says when the school realized it's mistake, it had to enforce the rules and regulations. A legal memo obtained by WUSA9 suggests Wilson might have had to forfeit games if the kids played.

DC Councilwoman Mary Cheh doesn't buy it. "I don't understand a regime that is so wooden. I understand rules is rules. But there are exceptions to rules."

The parents might have been able to force the schools in court to pay tens of thousands of dollars for Kasper and Luis to attend the Lab School -- and the boys would probably be playing Wilson football now.

"We just decided not to do that," says Jari Tuomala. "That's paying dividends now -- in a bad way."

A federal law mandates that every school district provides every student with a free and appropriate education.That sometimes leaves school districts paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to place special needs students at private schools The parents here didn't ask for that. They just want the kids to be able to play football.

Melissa Salmanowitz of DC Schools says the system has built a lot of special ed capacity in its neighborhood schools in the last few years. She says children with learning and attention challenges in public schools -- and children the district has to place in private schools to serve adequately -- are all eligible to play.


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