The findings of a two-year U.S. attorney investigation into city schools are staggering.
It’s clear students with disabilities aren’t prioritized in NYC. It’s not just that schools lack elevators or ramps. Even the doorknobs don’t accommodate students with disabilities. A scathing 14-page letter to the city’s education department by Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District, shows the city hasn’t even tried.
More than 80 percent of NYC schools are not fully accessible to disabled students. Six school districts don’t have a fully accessible school. In many schools, the first floor and common areas like the auditorium, gymnasium and bathrooms aren’t accessible, a problem that affects children and their wheelchair-bound family members. Even schools built and updated since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed 25 years ago don’t meet standards. In one instance, a Queens school renovated in 2000 included an elevator that wasn’t compliant with the ADA.
It’s more than just the school buildings. The city often doesn’t try to accommodate requests for changes that might allow students to attend a local or desired school. Websites don’t even provide a way for students and families to make such requests, according to the report.
The conclusion is simple, yet disturbing: Too often, children with disabilities do not receive the appropriate education to which they’re entitled. The city has failed them.
Some fixes can be done quickly — like adding signage in Braille or ramps and handrails for playground access. Others are more complicated, but must be done, too.
A city spokeswoman said $100 million in capital funds will be used for accessibility. But that means nothing if repairs and upgrades aren’t done right.
If it takes a warning from the U.S. attorney to get city education officials to pay attention, so be it. The city must answer Bharara’s findings by Jan. 20. That response should recognize the problem and outline ways officials plan to address it. NYC must make smarter choices and comply with federal law to meet the needs of students and their families.