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Snow removal, handicap parking, potential doorway access issues among complaints against JPS

Details of a physical access complaint that resulted in a federal civil rights investigation of Jamestown Public School District note it was largely about snow removal, handicap parking and potential doorway access issues.A redacted copy of the c...

Details of a physical access complaint that resulted in a federal civil rights investigation of Jamestown Public School District note it was largely about snow removal, handicap parking and potential doorway access issues.
A redacted copy of the complaint given to The Sun from Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Robert Lech withheld the name of the complainant, the school and principal involved but did show the issues regarding physical access to buildings and grounds. An investigation and visit from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights resulted in recommendations that the Jamestown Public School Board voted to accept at its Nov. 9 special meeting.
“We saw the visit as an opportunity to have a trained and objective person come into our district and make recommendations on how we can improve our facilities from an accessibility standpoint,” Lech said.
An email statement from the U.S. Department of Education said the Jamestown Public School District entered into a resolution agreement to resolve the OCR complaint in mid-November. The complaint was originated on May 21, alleging disability discrimination for inaction to requests to improve mobility impairment and to keep sidewalks accessible to the buildings by keeping them clear of snow.
The email said that OCR determined it had the authority to investigate under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It notified the school district of the complaint and pending investigation on June 24.
Redacted copies of correspondence between the complainant and the school district and OCR date back to Jan. 8. The letters noted that complaints to a school principal and the district about problems with handicap accessibility were received, but action was not taken to resolve the problem.
The complaint alleged that door accessibility and the distance of handicap parking to the building were not adequate. The complaint also alleged that handicap-parking spaces were not observed in winter when snow covered the blue pavement markings and the lack of signage, along with failing to clear walkways of snow from parking to the handicap-access doors.
The OCR investigation resulted in allowing the school district to enter an early resolution process by taking voluntary steps to correct the situation. The board vote in November accepted the recommendations.
A statement from the Department of Education said OCR cannot discuss specific information related to ongoing monitoring or implementation of the agreement, or of the district’s activities in an open case. OCR and the district are working collaboratively to ensure full implementation of the agreement, according to the statement.
“Among other things, the district agreed to operate programs and activities in existing facilities so that they are, when viewed in their entirety, readily accessible to persons with disabilities,” the Department of Education statement said. “Additionally, the district will modify several new constructions to ensure that they are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”
Lech said the complaint resulted in the broad investigation of the school district’s policies and the conditions of buildings and grounds related to physical access.
“The resolution agreement is not related to the complaint but did lead us down this path and found other areas to address,” he said.
OCR approved the School Board’s request to extend the completion date to allow for construction to occur with simultaneous improvements during the summer, Lech said.
“OCR did recognize that changes to doorways during the school year would cause obvious problems and were very willing to extend that date out to Aug. 1,” he said.
tlaventure@jamestownsun.com | (701) 952-8455

Related Topics: JAMESTOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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