Submitted by Abbe Large, Alex Popp, Liz Tomassino, Josiane Parnell and Dan Quigley
Thirty years after the Federal Government passed the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Greenwich public school system remains mostly non-ADA compliant. Our school Superintendent’s announcement that she is working on an “internal rubric used by school staff to assess the needs of each school” which could later result in an ADA feasibility study, leaves a lot to be desired.
This, while a U.S. Dept of Education Civil Rights case focusing on alleged discrimination regarding a physical disability is being investigated at Old Greenwich School. This is a serious matter. We do not detect a sense of urgency on the part of the Superintendent to resolve it. This was evident at the January Board of Ed meeting when the Superintendent devoted all of two minutes out of a four hour meeting to addressing the issue.
In 2017, the Board of Education paid $750,000 for a Facilities Master Plan (FMP). The plan prioritized ADA accessibility. On the Board of Ed website it describes the FMP as “a fifteen year plan to include a comprehensive assessment of all school facilities and to plan for maintenance, replacement cycles, renovations and next generation schools”. If it sounds like a fairly detailed plan, that’s because it is.
In a recent Greenwich Time article, Board of Ed Chair Peter Bernstein referred to the FMP as a “50,000 foot view” of what is needed in our public schools, and that the new rubric would be more akin to a “1,000 foot view”. Yet, the details of the rubric have not yet been shared with the BOE members.
We have a question for BOE Chairman and the Superintendent. Assuming Chairman Bernstein knew our schools were non ADA compliant in 2017 (Superintendent Jones was hired in January of 2019), and that the FMP represented a “50,000 foot view” despite its clear prioritization of ADA accessibility, why wasn’t an ADA feasibility study immediately commissioned upon the release of the FMP? Why has Superintendent Jones delayed until a Federal investigation and pressure from within the Greenwich community prompted action?
The fact is, the FMP was not at all designed to be a vague or cloudy view from 50,000 feet. This would imply that it doesn’t provide any granular details for renovations, upgrades or maintenance. That presumption is false. It is very detailed. It has been written about and commented on extensively in many town committees since its release, and was presented as the definitive document toward solving the long term capital needs of our schools.
Now, the families of children with short and long term disabilities, as well as teachers, staff or family members will have to await completion of the rubric, and a potential follow up feasibility study. Only then can we determine what needs to be done to get our schools up to nationally mandated standards of ADA compliance.
What is also troublesome is the fact that while we are being told that we need a more accurate view of ADA needs before we can fully understand the scope of what should be done, the Board of Ed is pitching a costly ($26million) renovation of Julian Curtiss School which includes ADA upgrades as part of the larger project. Again, this doesn’t add up.
The Superintendent should separate ADA compliance from other school related capital projects. It should be capital priority number one. These are urgently needed upgrades. There will be no debate as to their funding. They are necessary. ADA compliance is a stand alone issue. However, when ADA is simply part of a more expansive capital project, ADA gets thrown out with the rest of the project if it is not approved or is unjustifiable due to cost.
The families of children with disabilities will continue to be told to wait, and Greenwich will continue to cross its fingers and hope that it won’t be the target of a massive lawsuit that it will likely lose. The fact is, the FY 21/22 BOE budget includes exactly zero dollars for ADA. Superintendent Jones, you need to treat ADA compliance with gravity and a sense of purpose. So far, you have not.
- Abbe Large
- Alex Popp
- Liz Tomassino
- Josiane Parnell
- Dan Quigley