A federal investigation has found that 83 percent of New York City’s public elementary schools are not fully accessible to children with disabilities, and the nation’s largest public school system is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
A letter sent Monday to the NYC Department of Education’s top lawyer, the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, said the two-year investigation also showed that six school districts, serving over 50,000 elementary students, did not have a school that was fully accessible. The entire system serves about 1.1 million students.
“Nowhere is it more important to tear down the barriers to equal access than with respect to the education of our children,” Bharara’s office said. “But today, in New York City, 25 years after passage of the A.D.A., children with physical disabilities still do not have equal access to this most fundamental of rights.”
The letter describes the effect the violations had on one family that had gone to “extreme measures” to keep a daughter enrolled in a local school instead of making the lengthy commute to the closest “accessible school.”
“A parent of this elementary school child was forced to travel to the school multiple times a day, every school day, in order to carry her child up and down stairs to her classroom, to the cafeteria, and to other areas of the school in which classes and programs were held,” the letter said.
The letter gives the city 30 days to respond, including an “outline and timeline of corrective actions.”
Department spokesman Harry Hartfield told The New York Times the agency was reviewing the letter and remained “committed to increasing the accessibility” of school buildings. He said the department was cooperating with the investigation, adding that it has set aside $100 million for accessibility projects.
“Our goal is to ensure that all our students have access to a high-quality education, and a student’s disability should never get in the way of [his or her] access to a great school,” Hartfield said.