To the Newton Independent:
After spending hours upon hours researching the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and federal laws regarding public buildings and school buildings, I am very appalled with the school board's decision. The board obviously doesn't know the laws (state and federal) when it comes to having a handicap accessible school for all disabilities, whether it be the parent/guardian, grandparents and most importantly, the children.
Children and adults that are physically disabled have the right to a safe physical environment. This means it's illegal for a school district to expose disabled students to safety hazards. Safety hazards include steep ramps, paths and walkways that are hazardous to students who are wheelchair bound or who have other physical disabilities.
By making those children go to Woodrow Wilson, the board will be exposing handicapped children to several safety hazards. If there were a fire in Woodrow Wilson by the elevator, there would be no way for the children to get out unless the staff carries them out because all the exits do not have ramps to the outside. By law, the school district must have fire doors and secure locations for mobility impaired people on all floors and not just on the ground floor.
Let's talk about "The Rights to a Barrier-Free Environment." Emerson Hough is 100 percent barrier free from one end of the building to the other and on both floors. Woodrow Wilson is not. Children have every legal right to attend an accessible school. What this means is to provide an environment (Emerson Hough) that does not have physical barriers or obstacles that make it difficult or impossible for a person with a physical disability. A school must have facilities that are fully accessible to people with physical disabilities, including people who use wheelchairs, at every level from pre-school through adult education.
Section 54.1. Right to Full and Equal Access to Public Facilities. Individuals with disabilities shall be entitled to full and equal access, as other members of the general public.
The state and federal laws have required all public school buildings built or renovated within the last 30 years to meet access requirements. In order for the building to be fully accessible, all the following must be met:
- Building entrances
- Paths of travel within the building, including corridors
- Elevators and doorways
- All areas throughout the building used for programs
- Public telephones and drinking fountains
- Parking areas and spaces
- Access to the altered area
- At least one accessible entrance and signs at the inaccessible entrances to direct disabled persons to the accessible entrance
By closing Emerson Hough, which is 100 percent handicap accessible, and with the new grade level realignment, there won't be a 100 percent handicap accessible school in town. Also, the disabled student and parents have the right to prompt removal of architectural barriers. The school district is responsible for covering the cost of the removal or architectural barriers.
The school board is needing to cut major costs, but by closing Emerson Hough they are going to end up spending more money because by federal law they will have to make Woodrow Wilson 100 percent handicap accessible. OK, if they need to save money and cut costs, the logical thing would be to keep Emerson Hough open and close Woodrow Wilson. Emerson Hough is already updated and meets the Code of Federal Regulations ADA Standards for Accessible Design, Department of Justice 28 CFR Part 36. Woodrow Wilson does not meet all the requirements even after they had their upgrades.