It’s hard to believe that the Americans with Disabilities Act that went into effect in 1992 is still being violated in New York City, home of the nation’s largest school district (“Most New York City Elementary Schools Are Violating Disabilities Act, Investigation Finds,” The New York Times, December 22). According to a two-year federal investigation, 83 percent of the city’s public elementary schools are not “fully accessible” as required by law.
If the violations in New York City were strictly the result of unintentional errors, that would be one thing. But according to a letter from Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, more than 50,000 elementary students lacked a single school that was in full compliance. For example, an addition to a school in 2000 was “riddled with inaccessible features.” That can’t be written off as a simple oversight. It is evidence that the law is being flouted.
The clear intent of the 1975 special-education law now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was to provide a “free appropriate” public education to disabled students in the “least restrictive environment.” That meant making schools accessible to them. When they couldn’t or wouldn’t, the law permits parents to seek public financing for their children elsewhere.
At last count, about 88,000 of the nation’s more than six million special-education students were educated in private schools or in private residential facilities at public expense. But because of its size, New York City has garnered the most attention. The irony is that the cost of educating a special-needs student in a public school is about $20,000 cheaper than in a private school. Although New York City now spends more than $200 million on such education, it continues to drag its feet.
I don’t know why New York City or other places have not fulfilled their responsibility so long after both laws were passed. What is on display is indefensible.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.