Disabled Girl Barred from School Special Olympic's Program

Youngwith family files federal lawsuit to get answers

By Dick Johnson and BJ Lutz
|  Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010  |  Updated 12:18 PM CDT
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Jenny Youngwith wants to play basketball just as she's been doing safety for years. But a decision made by someone, somewhere is preventing the special needs student from hitting the court.

Jenny Youngwith wants to play basketball just as she's been doing safety for years. But a decision made by someone, somewhere is preventing the special needs student from hitting the court.

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Jenny Youngwith wants to play basketball just as she's been doing safety for years. But a decision made by someone, somewhere is preventing the special needs student from hitting the court.

But as if that weren't bad enough, her family says they're not getting a good answer as to why she can't play.

"We asked them why and they just say, 'Because," explained the 17-year-old senior's father, Dick Youngwith.

Youngwith and her oxygen tank-carrying service dog, Simba, aren't new to the sport. They've been playing it in gym class at Community High School in West Chicago for two years. But that all changed when the board of education last year partnered with Special Olympics Illinois.

"I really like playing basketball because I can be with my friends," Youngwith said.

To get resolution -- or an answer -- the family has filed a federal lawsuit through an attorney with Chicago disability rights group Equip for Equality.

"We're essentially asking that Jenny be allowed to participate using Simba, her service animal, and her oxygen tank and be able to fully participate in basketball games and track and field events," said attorney Alan Goldstein.

Youngwith and Simba are such a determined combination that they even won a gold medal in a state championship softball throw last year.  It was an event run by Special Olympics Illinois.

Attempts to reach the organization's executives or attorneys for a response have been unsuccessful.

School board members have taken up the issue and plan to take action before the season begins in November. One of the options being discussed would include breaking ties with the Special Olympics and canceling the program altogether.

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