students with disabilities

Investigation slams city over accommodations for students with disabilities

The city will now add students who attend class in trailers outside of school buildings into the main buildings’ enrollment counts.

New York City provides “inexcusable” accommodations for its young students with disabilities and has failed to address the problem for years, according to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation released Monday.

In a scathing letter, the office of Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, details inadequate school entrances, alarm systems, and playgrounds that keep physically disabled students from attending their local elementary schools. Instead, these students are forced to travel long distances to receive the same education as their peers — a breach so severe it amounts to a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the investigation concluded.

“Nowhere is it more important to tear down the barriers to equal access than with respect to the education of our children,” reads the letter, signed by an attorney from the federal justice department. “But today, in New York City, 25 years after passage of the ADA, children with physical disabilities still do not have equal access to this most fundamental of rights.”

The letter, the product of a two-year investigation, offers a series of startling statistics. Six of the city’s community school districts — districts 3, 5, 8, 12, 16 and 21 —  have no “fully accessible” elementary schools. All told, 83 percent of public elementary schools in New York City do not meet that fully accessible standard, the report found.

The report also notes that half of the city’s students whose only disability is a mobility impairment end up at District 75 schools, which are sites meant for students with autism, cognitive delays, and emotional challenges.

Many of the city’s school buildings were built long before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But even when renovating schools, the city has failed to upgrade existing facilities to accommodate students with disabilities, according to the report. An addition to a school in Queens built in 2000 includes an inappropriately sized elevator and bathroom grab bars.

The letter says the city defended its failure to provide disabled students access to schools by saying they only represent a small part of the public-school population. The letter dismissed this explanation as “unacceptable and inadequate.”

“The language in this is really sharp,” said Maggie Moroff, the special education policy coordinator at the nonprofit Advocates for Children. “They’re not messing around at all.”

Officials at the education department said they remain committed to helping students with disabilities and that their latest capital improvement plan sets aside $100 million for accessibility projects.

“We are reviewing the United States Attorney’s letter and remain committed to increasing the accessibility of our school buildings,” said education department spokesman Harry Hartfield.

The letter itself won’t immediately change facilities for students, Moroff said, but it provides validation to many advocates, families and lawyers who have been concerned about this problem for years.

“The fact that the DOJ is going to be looking at New York City and requiring New York City to answer to it is pretty tremendous,” Moroff said.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.