CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Department of Education has sided with a former homebound Logan County student whom county school officials barred from attending a senior party in May 2009.
The decision, reached earlier this spring, led to changes in Logan County 's policy on homebound students.
Now, the teen's grandmother said she wants parents in other West Virginia counties to be aware of similar policies that might discriminate against children with disabilities.
"There are so many students with disabilities who face these obstacles every day," Carlene Mowery said. "Parents need to know there are laws to protect them from things like this."
Todd Mowery graduated last year from Logan County High School, but had been on homebound instruction since October 2008. He is diagnosed with Fabry disease, a lipid storage disorder caused by a faulty enzyme or lack of the enzyme needed to metabolize lipids, which are fat-like substances such as oils, waxes and fatty acids, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Robert Hopkin, Todd Mowery's physician in 2004, wrote that the disease begins in early childhood and shows symptoms such as episodic pain, burning and tingling of the hands and feet, decreased sweating, recurrent fevers, depression and an intolerance to hot and cold, according to a letter he sent to the Social Security Administration six years ago.
Michelle Wojtasiak, then a genetic counselor at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, co-signed the letter with Hopkin, who was then an assistant professor in the hospital's Division of Human Genetics. Carlene Mowery gave a copy to the Gazette-Mail.
At the time, Mowery's most severe symptoms were nausea, chronic vomiting and severe pain in his hands and feet, according to Hopkin and Wojtasiak's letter.
Under Logan County Schools' old policy, any student who was on homebound instruction for any reason could not attend extracurricular activities, said Logan school board attorney Leslie Tyree.
Tyree said that never included basketball games or football games, which are paid public events. Carlene Mowery, however, said school administrators would not allow her grandson to attend games because "they said if he was too sick to come to school, he was too sick to come to a ballgame."
"He couldn't help it. He was born with that disease," she said. "It was not something he chose."
Fabry disease is eventually fatal and there is no cure, Hopkin wrote. By adulthood, serious complications may include kidney failure, strokes and heart disease. Still, enzyme replacement therapy can slow the disease's progression.
On May 8, 2009, Todd Mowery was not allowed into his senior party held at Gatti's Pizza at the Fountain Place Mall in Logan. Instead, he was left outside in the rain under an awning during a heavy rainstorm, Carlene Mowery said.
In her complaint to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, Carlene Mowery wrote that teachers and staff members stood in front of the glass entrance where it was "dry and warm," while Todd's classmates enjoyed themselves inside the restaurant.
"That's the night that Gilbert almost washed off the map. Not one of them said, 'Todd, do you want to come in until someone can pick you up?'" Carlene Mowery said in a phone interview. "They left him out in that rainstorm, and they humiliated him in front of his whole class when they wouldn't let him in."