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Gladstone Gymnastics Studio Agrees To Change Its Policy After Turning Away Child With Autism

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Tia Crowe

A gymnastics studio in Gladstone, Missouri, that refused to admit a child with autism has agreed to provide programs for children with disabilities under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The studio, Creative Arts Academy, agreed to the settlement after the department found it had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it declined to enroll 3-year-old Bella Crowe.

Bella was diagnosed with autism when she was a year old, according to the ACLU of Missouri, which filed a complaint on Bella’s behalf. In March 2016, Bella's mother, Tia Crowe, sought to enroll her in a tumbling class at the Creative Arts Academy. The academy, however, told her via voicemail that its instructors weren't trained to teach students with special needs.

"It was horrible because my daughter was working her butt off at home to be able to do this, to be out with other children and learn how to just do what typical children do," Tia Crowe told KCUR in a phone interview. "It made me super sad."

Under the settlement, Creative Arts Academy has agreed to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity to participate in gymnastics, dance and preschool classes that it provides to children without disabilities.

Between 275 and 325 children are registered to participate in Creative Arts Academy’s programs, according to the settlement agreement. The academy, which has 15 employees, is located at 1904 NE Englewood Road.

The academy's owner, Pam Raisher, could not be reached for comment.

Crowe, who has four children and lives in Gladstone, said she called Creative Arts Academy because it was closest to home. She said when she inquired about enrolling Bella, she was told the owner would call her back.

"And then, I think it was like two days later – I don't know if she was exactly the owner that left the voicemail on my phone or who it was – but she just said, 'We're not qualified to take children with autism, we don't have the right classes. So I hope you have good luck finding somewhere else,'" Crowe said.

Crowe said that she ended up enrolling her daughter at another gymnastics school.

"A local gymnastics place reached out to me called The Edge Gymnastics in Riverside, so we took her there and she really liked it," Crowe said. "She went there for a while and then got to the age where it was competition time, and I didn't think she was quite ready for that. So we took her out and now she's wanting to do ballet."

The settlement agreement notes that Creative Arts Academy cooperated with the Justice Department investigation. It says the agreement should not be construed as an admission of liability or fault.

Gillian Wilcox, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement that businesses are required by law to provide services to people with disabilities.

"People who are differently abled often require modifications to services in order to access them in an equitable way," she said.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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