Archive for Sunday, May 18, 2003

Cordley violates ADA, parent says

Defeated school board candidate takes complaint to federal government

May 18, 2003


The parent of a Lawrence public school student with disabilities has filed a civil rights complaint against the district alleging Cordley School doesn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Brent Garner, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Lawrence school board in February, filed the discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

"They're violating the law," Garner said.

Carlin Hertz, spokesman in the Office of Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., confirmed the complaint had been submitted.

"Right now, we are evaluating it," Hertz said.

Since 1990, the ADA has guaranteed that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and access to the workplace, schools, transportation and communications that other people enjoy.

Garner, who campaigned aggressively against elementary consolidation, said he was upset the Lawrence school board voted to close Centennial School, which his disabled daughter attends. Most of Centennial's students will be sent to Cordley.

"Centennial is ADA compliant," Garner said. "Cordley, on the other hand, is in major violation."

Garner said students in upper grades at Cordley were in classrooms accessible only by stairs. The school should have installed an elevator years ago, he said.

"If you're in a wheelchair, there is no way to get there. The federal law says it has to be accessible," Garner said.

On Friday, Supt. Randy Weseman said the district had yet to receive a copy of Garner's complaint.

"We've always cooperated with OCR investigations," he said. "We will cooperate fully when we are notified."

He said the district abided by ADA. In terms of Cordley, he said the district was obligated to find a suitable academic setting for all students with a disability. The district has moved entire classrooms in an elementary school to make certain a student is accommodated, he said.

The Lawrence district has a solid track record of working on behalf of students with disabilities, he said. He pointed to the district's selection in 2000 as employer of the year from the Mid-America Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Garner, who didn't survive the primary election for school board, campaigned against the school board's proposals to shut down Centennial, East Heights and Riverside schools in May.

He called the school board's push to consolidate immoral and "sinister."

The board voted 6-0 Monday to shut down East Heights and Centennial schools May 23. They previously had voted to close Riverside.

Asked why he chose to file a complaint at this time, Garner replied: "They ticked me off."

Garner, who lives in the Deerfield School neighborhood, received a district transfer for his daughter to attend Centennial. She is in fourth grade, and would be moved to a classroom at Cordley that can be reached only by stairs. She doesn't have mobility problems, he said, but does require a sign-language translator.

"The stairs would probably not be a challenge to her," Garner said. "If any patron of the district with a disability wanted to walk into the building and visit," it would be a problem.

Garner filed the complaint May 1 on behalf of all "mobility-impaired students at Cordley."

He said he didn't discuss his concerns about Cordley with the superintendent before submitting the document to the Education Department.

"I won't talk to him about anything," Garner said.

Meanwhile, Garner said he would put together a recall petition to recall members of the school board for "incompetence or failure to perform duties prescribed by law." The effort would be tied to noncompliance with ADA, he said.

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