Mom sues district after son in wheelchair breaks legs at Colorado school

DENVER (KDVR) — A mother is suing a Colorado school district, saying she was not notified for several hours after her disabled son broke both his legs after losing control on a ramp while in his wheelchair.

Nexstar's KDVR obtained a civil action lawsuit that was filed by Igor Raykin, who is representing Patricia Portillo Estrada. Her 12-year-old son was enrolled in Rocky Mountain Elementary in the Adams 12 Five Star Schools district.

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According to the lawsuit, Portillo Estrada's son has significant disabilities, including intellectual, orthopedic and speech. As a result, he must use a wheelchair, walker or mobility trike.

Portillo Estrada and her son are also immigrants who primarily speak Spanish and require district employees to serve as interpreters.

"He has to be supervised all the time, especially going down a ramp," the mother told KDVR through an interpreter.

The interpreter said Portillo-Estrada wants the school to do better: "She feels that the school failed to take care of him because she feels that you send your kids and you trust the school, you trust the system, hoping that they are going to take care of your kids, and that didn't happen."

Lawsuit alleges school denied accommodations

According to the lawsuit, since Oct. 28, 2020, the school district allegedly denied the boy reasonable accommodations for his disability. In one example, the lawsuit claims that from October 2020 to the present, the school district failed to supervise or assist the boy with his functional mobility.

The lawsuit claims the school district did not provide equal access to education that the boy would have received if he was not disabled.

Boy breaks both legs after losing control on ramp

According to the lawsuit, the district's failure to supervise the boy came to a head on May 10, 2022, when he suffered bilateral fractures to the tibia and fibula of both legs after losing control of his wheelchair on a ramp at Rocky Mountain Elementary.

The incident happened at 8:15 a.m. School staff did not report the boy's injuries, according to the lawsuit, which cited the elementary school.

Following the incident, the lawsuit claims that at least one school employee discovered the boy at the bottom of the ramp, but allegedly did not provide assistance.

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The lawsuit claims the boy was left to collect himself after sustaining the injuries and return to class.

"Rocky Mountain Elementary’s internal report notes that multiple staff members observed the Plaintiff 'on the verge of tears throughout the day.' However, neither his class teacher, nor any RME employee, took any action to investigate or treat his condition. Nor did any RME staff contact Ms. Portillo Estrada to inform her of the Plaintiff’s condition," said the attorneys in the lawsuit.

Portillo Estrada was unaware of her son's condition until she picked him up from the bus stop later that afternoon.

Per the lawsuit, the boy spent seven hours in pain before his mother was made aware after school.

Portillo Estrada texted the school to ask about the incident but did not receive a text back, according to her lawyers. The following day, she chose to keep her son at home, where he continued to be in pain. She still didn't know what had happened to her son.

School claims shoulder discomfort caused pain

The lawsuit said that Rocky Mountain Elementary later answered Portillo Estrada's texts and questions about the inquiries. The school allegedly said the pain stemmed from shoulder discomfort.

However, the lawsuit says the boy did not experience shoulder or back pain until after the incident.

The school then advised Portillo Estrada to take her son to a doctor.

Portillo Estrada explained to the school that her son was suffering from severe pain and swelling in his knees, but the lawsuit states that the school claimed the boy did not suffer any injuries while at the school. The school allegedly said the boy must have suffered the pain due to falling out of bed.

Mother sends boy back to school

Two days later, on May 12, Portillo Estrada decided to send her son back to school. The lawsuit said she was still unaware of the extent of her son's injuries.

"A few hours later, RME contacted Ms. Portillo Estrada and demanded she either pick her son up from school due to the pain he was experiencing, or it would call an ambulance to take him to the hospital," said the lawsuit.

Portillo Estrada took her son to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with bilateral fractures with severe swelling.

According to the lawsuit, the boy's injuries were so severe, that Portillo Estrada was interviewed by a clinical social worker.

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Following the boy's diagnosis, the lawsuit said, he remained at the hospital for one week and was required to maintain total immobilization in his legs for another four weeks.

Because the boy was confined to his bed for more than a month, the lawsuit said, he developed bed sores.

Surveillance footage shows boy fall from wheelchair

In June, Portillo Estrada and an interpreter spoke with the principal at Rocky Mountain Elementary. Up until this point, the lawsuit said, the school denied any wrongdoing.

During this meeting, the principal reviewed security footage from the morning of the incident.

According to the lawsuit, the footage showed the boy unattended and unsupervised. He attempted to get through the ramps between classrooms but lost control.

The boy's wheelchair rolled down the ramp and collided with a concrete wall. According to the lawsuit, the video showed that the boy's knees absorbed most of the impact.

The elementary school wrote a summary of the video and gave it to Portillo Estrada.

Following the collision, the boy allegedly returned to class.

The principal at the school opened an investigation following the meeting with Portillo Estrada in June.

Program states boy needs supervision, help with wheelchair

According to the lawsuit, the boy's individualized education program has been amended several times since he started school in 2020.

In several cases, his education program states that he needs supervision and assistance when navigating ramps and uneven terrain while in his wheelchair, according to the lawsuit.

A March 2022 program said the boy requires, “safety monitoring from staff throughout the day due to medical, mobility, and functional issues,” according to the lawsuit.

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Following the collision, the principal said the boy's education program's language should be strengthened.

The August 2022 program states the boy “requires 1:1, hands-on wheelchair assistance
when he is transitioning between classes, going up and down ramps, and on the
playground."

"The IEP (individualized education program) said that constant supervision was actually necessary, but the constant supervision did not take place in this particular place, and that's how this catastrophic accident happened," said Raykin, the family's attorney.

KDVR contacted the district and was sent the following statement:

At this time, the district has yet to be served with a complaint regarding this matter. If we are served with a complaint, the district's practice is not to share information on pending or ongoing litigation. 

Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Lawsuit claims school district violated the Rehabilitation Act

Following the incident and the claim that the boy was denied reasonable accommodations, the mother is suing the district, alleging discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

"We just want them to take things more seriously and take the needs of these children more seriously," Raykin said.

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