"Auditors found numerous problems in each of the 19 schools selected
randomly for compliance, including four new campuses."
Disabled access in schools faulted
Random audit finds that 19 L.A. Unified schools have not made upgrades
for the handicapped. Monitor says district has acted in 'bad faith.'
By Evelyn Larrubia, Times Staff Writer
May 31, 2007
An audit of the Los Angeles Unified School District's progress in
building and remodeling schools to make them accessible to the disabled
found chronic problems in the design of parking, restrooms, ramps and
drinking water fountains, as well as a troubling lack of documentation
and misstatements of accomplishments.
"We find this to be really offensive and frankly kind of squandering
limited tax resources that are designed to build schools for everyone,"
said Catherine Blakemore, a lawyer with the public interest law firm
Protection and Advocacy.
Her firm was one of three that sued the school system in 1993 on behalf
of disabled students, principally alleging that the district had failed
to provide adequate special education.
The suit resulted in two consent decrees, known as the Chanda Smith
decrees, in which the district agreed to make future schools accessible
to the disabled and spend at least $87.5 million to upgrade existing
campuses to provide access, in compliance with state and federal laws.
An independent monitor was appointed by the court to review the
"The progress report raises serious issues," school district general
counsel Kevin Reed said in a written statement Wednesday. The school
system is reviewing the report and will come up with an "action plan"
within 60 days, he said. He did not address specific problems.
The audit, performed by Disability Access Consultants, found ramps with
handrails that stopped short, new bleachers without wheelchair seating
and outdoor lunch tables without wheelchair access. Bathrooms or stalls
marked for use by the disabled did not provide proper clearance or the
appropriate height for wheelchair users.
Auditors found numerous problems in each of the 19 schools selected
randomly for compliance, including four new campuses.
It was the latest audit in a series commissioned by the monitor, but the
first to tackle disabled access. In a scathing letter to the school
board and superintendent, monitor Frederick Weintraub said the district
had failed so dismally that it "appears indicative of a systemic problem
in the management and oversight of the district's facilities program."
Weintraub directed the school system to hire an accessibility expert to
oversee the upgrades.
Weintraub said it is impossible to know how much the district has spent
on projects to improve access, because after nearly a year of meetings,
telephone calls and broken promises, the district had acted in "bad
faith" by failing to provide backup documentation for a majority of
projects that had been chosen for the audit.
District staff acknowledged that three projects reported as completed
had never been started, and a site visit of one school found that work
that was shown to be finished was not.
The district kept a log intended to outline the renovations completed
for disabled access, but the audit showed it to be "considerably
inaccurate in many areas and a misrepresentation of funds expended.
These inaccuracies extend beyond what may be characterized as reporting
errors," Weintraub wrote.
He questioned the district's decision to include as disability access
improvements $66 million in fire alarm strobe light upgrades, when the
reduction of barriers should have been given higher priority. The log
also included projects labeled class-size reduction and earthquake repair.
"I must fight with all my strength so that the little positive things that my health allows me to do might be pointed toward helping the revolution. The only real reason for living."
emma rosenthal is a disabled artist, writer, educator, reiki practitioner, activist and consultant, living in southern california.
po box 26382
los angeles, ca 90026
emma's web page:
In Bed With Frida Kahlo:
Daily indignities, small insurrections and honest musings from a life of infirmity and rebellion
Emma Rosenthal: A blog of political essays, letters and news.
Uniting Art with Critical Consciousness
Film reviews: A resource for activists and educators
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