The college admissions scam where parents, including celebrity parents, paid money and lied about their children’s qualifications to gain admission into prestigious universities highlights many problems. Some may claim that this is a victimless crime. However, wrongly claiming a disability to gain unfair advantages has far-reaching implications on both the student who makes the false claim and students who classified with legitimate disabilities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require schools to provide appropriate accommodations and modifications for students with documented disabilities. These may include extra time on exams, quiet areas to take exams, or providing exams in different formats, such as utilizing e-readers. The goal is to provide a level playing field for all students to achieve their maximum potential. There is a process for documenting a disability, and while the system is not perfect, it works for the most part.

Here are three consequences of gaming that system:

It takes resources away from students who need them. Education in this country is built to educate the masses. To ensure this, we must have a system that works for the majority of students to be successful. Resources are allocated to provide students with disabilities the accommodations needed to perform to their potential. When the system is overrun by students utilizing those resources that do not actually need them, it overtaxes the system and takes these much-needed resources away from others.

It delegitimizes the accommodations provided to students who need them. There is a known saying in the field of special education: “Fair is not equal and equal is not fair.” At times, when students who legitimately need extra time on an exam, or a quiet area due to a documented disability, this may be viewed by some as unfair advantage. There is nothing unfair about providing someone the accommodations they need to be successful in relation to their disability. What is unfair is providing these accommodations to students that do not need them. People participating in this ruse or a system that allows for this only reinforces this stigma.

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Parents who lie to help their children actually are hurting them. While elite colleges have extensive admissions processes as a screening tool, many students who are not accepted would have been successful in these institutions. But parents who intentionally lie and use their influence to gain admissions, communicate to their children that they will not be successful without this deception. This sends kids the message that they are not good enough. Additionally, it communicates that the value and worth of the degree from the prestigious university outweighs the value and worth of staying true to oneself.

This scam has brought to light many of the issues surrounding the college admissions process. Parents portraying disabilities of their children to gain unfair influence hurt not only their child but all students with disabilities, as well as all those in education who work so hard to provide accommodations to students who genuinely need them.

Jessica Glass Kendorski, Ph.D., NCSP, BCBA-D, is an associate professor and director of the master of science program in school psychology/applied behavior analysis at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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