A retarded, AIDS-stricken 7-year-old girl has been allowed to sit in a classroom without staying in an isolation booth for the first time in her life.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich on Wednesday cleared the way for Eliana Martinez to attend Manhattan Exceptional Center. The ruling ended her mother's 2 1/2-year battle against school officials who feared a health risk.The child, who's been taught at home since June 1987, was once told she could attend class on the condition she remained isolated inside a glass booth. But the issue of a partition became moot when Kovachevich decided Eliana posed no significant threat to her classmates.
Family attorney Steve Hanlon predicted the ruling will have far-reaching effects.
"I'm just a trial lawyer," Hanlon said, "but people who really do a lot of this work tell me this is a landmark case - that it will have a major impact around the country."
In an earlier ruling, Kovachevich tried to allay the school system's fears by ordering the specially built booth for the incontinent child until the girl became potty trained and learned to stop sucking her fingers.
Her adoptive mother, Rosa Martinez, said she would not send her daughter to school to sit in a "glass cage," and appealed.
"I'm so happy. I don't have bitterness for anything," Martinez said after the ruling. "My daughter is not a monkey. I've always said that.
"All she understands is she will be going in to play with some little people. She doesn't know what school is; she hasn't been to it."
School board attorney Crosby Few said, "she will be in the classroom just like the other kids. I hope this is the end of it."