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Student in wheelchair not allowed in program

MASON, Ohio (Rich Jaffe/Derek Drake) -- A 13-year-old boy in a wheelchair was turned down for a summer science camp because he has special needs. He and his parents didn't take the rejection lightly and that's teaching the educator involved an important lesson.

Benjamin Tavella, 13, is exceptionally bright and his physical issues have never gotten in his way. That is, until now.

"[Ben's] never been excluded from any kind of classroom setting nor should he," Ben's mom Jill Tavella said. "He's been full rein in gym class, been able to do everything in science... He's never had an issue anywhere."

This week Ben was hoping to attend the Science Discovery Camp being held on the Royalmont Academy campus.

"My entire life I've loved science and was looking forward to the camp," Ben explained to Local 12's Rich Jaffe.

When Ben's father Jeff Tavella explained Ben's situation to program administrator Dave Traxler, things changed. Jeff informed Traxler that Ben would be attending in a wheelchair and that he would like to come along with Ben to lend some help.

"He clearly stated we weren't going to be able to attend," Jeff recalled. "He went down a laundry list of why that wasn't going to happen. The wheelchair, my presence, one that really bothered me was the safety of other children."

Traxler, a 29-year educator, says the camp just wasn't prepared for wheelchairs or parents. "I've never had a parent...Just never allowed parents in classrooms," Traxler explained. "I just was concerned there wasn't going to be enough space and it was gonna be a safety issue."

"What went through my mind initially was we need to talk through it," Jeff Tavella said. "[The educator] doesn't fully understand the situation."

But that long time educator and summer science camp administrator Dave Traxler did understand the situation. He just didn't want to accommodate it.

His actions -- besides being unkind -- are illegal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect in 1990. Its goal is to guarantee people with disabilities have access to public places and events.

Ben and his family contacted the Executive Director of Royalmont Academy. A short time later, Traxler changed his mind and invited Ben and his dad to join the camp.

An offer they decided to decline.

It's a lesson not lost on this longtime educator. "I checked into the Americans with Disabilities Act, contacted the Department of Justice. I want to know what we need to do to accommodate campers because I don't want to exclude people, I really don't."

Traxler said he has been running the Science Discovery Camp for 26 years and 10 or 15 years ago, he had a hearing impaired student as a camper and he currently has one who's autistic.

This year's two-week camp has hosted 576 students, but one of them will not be Ben.

So what does Ben want out of all of this?

"I hope to see that more kids, like me, are allowed into camps," he said.

Royalmont Academy has nothing to do with this issue as the academy is renting out the space to the science camp.

In an email statement, Tony Ferraro, executive director of Royalmont Academy, said they were concerned about the issue. Pointing out that his school is closely involved with many programs designed to help children with disabilities.

Ferraro said Royalmont is evaluating continued rental commitments with Science Discovery Camp.

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