Parents claim autistic students denied entry to grocery store

- Liza Reyes is outraged that an educational shopping trip involving her autistic son Angel, along with a disabled classmate and three therapists, disintegrated into what she calls an overt act of "discrimination."

"For them to have told my son he is not allowed there, you know, that hurts my heart," said Reyes. "I know he is very hurt. He wasn't able to sleep. I wasn't able to sleep."

FOX 26 News has learned that a group from a treatment facility for children challenged with autism, known as Spectrum of Hope, arrived at the Kroger store on West Road near State Highway 6 with money and a list of items to purchase.

Near the store entrance, the group was confronted on Wednesday morning by an assistant manager.

"He was stopped at the Kroger where they have the tables and was asked to leave," said Reyes. "He was not allowed to do a community outing,"

That account has been confirmed by all three adult educators present, according to a Spectrum of Hope spokesperson.

In a statement to FOX 26, Spectrum of Hope founder Kimberly Wallace said, "We do not understand the denial of our clients' rights yesterday, but we view it as inexcusable."

For its part, Kroger called the incident an "isolated misunderstanding" and said its manager claims he mistook the Spectrum of Hope group for a different set of disabled students.

Kroger, in a statement, adds the following:

Spectrum of Hope staff and students are frequent shoppers with us and we appreciate their business. We regret any misunderstanding and hope to see the students, parents, and faculty back in our store soon.

Dustin Rynders, an attorney with Disability Rights - Texas, says by identifying the students as autistic and treating them differently than typical customers, Kroger's manager may have well crossed the line.

 "I find it outrageous," said Rynders. "You know since 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, our country became a place that's supposed to welcome people with disabilities into the community. That means into workplaces, that means into places of public accommodation like Kroger and really everywhere else,"

"An individual being denied entry to a place is the most basic kind of way to discriminate against someone," added Rynders.

As for Angel's mother, she's seeking accountability.

"I feel like Kroger needs to step up and apologize and own up to what they did," said Reyes.

Kroger released the following full statement:

At Kroger, we want to provide a positive shopping experience for all customers. We embrace diverse backgrounds and skills, and we’re a welcoming employer for hundreds of associates with developmental differences across Houston, including several associates at this store. Spectrum of Hope staff and students are frequent shoppers with us and we appreciate their business.  We regret any misunderstanding and hope to see the students, parents, and faculty back in our store soon.

Spectrum of Hope released the following full statement:

It is our understanding that two of our clients were denied access to purchasing groceries yesterday.  We have accompanied our clients to this store on previous occasions without incident.  Thus, we do not understand the denial of our clients’ rights yesterday, but we view it as inexcusable.

Part of what we do at Spectrum of Hope is to increase our clients’ independence by teaching life skills, like learning to shop for groceries.  Kroger is known for employing individuals with disabilities, so we must believe this was a terrible mistake made by an inexperienced manager.

We sincerely hope this situation will help the manager understand that as a community we must advocate for all persons with Autism and other disabilities.

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