'Born This Way' star joins Tomball girl's fight for equality
TOMBALL, Texas (FOX 26) - A time-weathered school and a table full of a lawyers -- images that rarely come less inspiring. But it is at the Tomball Independent School District Service Center that a compelling conflict is unfolding with a child's future hanging in the balance. Her name is Miranda Pichardo, a precocious six-year-old girl living with the challenges of Down Syndrome.
"It's segregation," said Jaime Pichardo, Miranda's father. "They are separating Miranda away from the rest of the typical kids." He is referring to Tomball ISD, a public school system which believes that his daughter should be from mainstream classrooms and educated largely alongside other children with disabilities.
The Pichardo family said that is discriminatory exclusion based on disproved science as antique as the 1936 date still clinging to the Tomball ISD administration building.
"This is not the country we live in," added Jaime. "If we all back away from our rights, they are going to be taken away from us."
Enter the Pichardo family's not-so-secret weapon, Megan Bomgaars.
The Emmy Award-winning star of the critically-acclaimed A&E series "Born This Way" traveled from Colorado to southeast Texas to lend her life story to Miranda's fight.
You see, Megan attributes her success as an actress, educator and businesswoman to her mother's refusal to accept academic segregation in a special education classroom setting.
"If they did that to me, I would never live," said Megan. "I would be miserable. I won't have a life."
As a lifelong educator, Kris Bomgaars, Megan's mother, said that the latest research shows children with challenges who are taught alongside non-disabled students vastly outperform children instructed in a segregated setting.
"I absolutely believe that children that are segregated, it is a violation of their civil rights," said Kris.
"What my hope is is that one day, Megan's story will not be exceptional," added Kris.
Forty-eight hours before the hearing, Tomball ISD filed a motion to block Megan from testifying. That effort to silence a national role model failed.
The 24-year-old reality television show star did on Monday what heroes are supposed to do -- fight for the well being of others.
Megan would tell a Texas Education Agency Hearing officer that she had come to be "Miranda's voice" and ask that the first grade student not be limited by her district's outdated notions of potential. It was an argument echoed by Miranda's mother and the Pichado family's legal team.
"She's a testimony, a living testimony of what people with disabilities can achieve when the opportunities are there," said Karina Pichardo, Miranda's mother. "That is what we are fighting for, for Miranda."
"What is this child's education doing to prepare them for the life they need to live after high school?," asked Dustin Rynders, lead attorney with Disability Rights Texas.
For its part, Tomball ISD would say only that it is "committed to ensuring all students are educated equitably, according to state and federal law."
In the meantime, Megan Bomgaars has earned plenty of love in the Lone Star State and is offering equal measure in return.
"I'm here in Texas for the very first time," said Megan. "I knew that I did the right move to testify for this gorgeous girl that I see in my life and to look at someone and say, 'That's me, that's myself and I'm going to do it."
Could it be that those so bent on solely considering intelligence quotient should gauge compassion and character as well?
The TEA Special Education Due Process hearing is scheduled to continue on Wednesday and Thursday at 1302 Keefer Street in Tomball.