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U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Finds ADA Discrimination at New Rochelle High School Planetarium

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U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Finds ADA Discrimination at New Rochelle High School Planetarium

July 20, 2013 - 13:03

PlanetariumADANEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has reached a settlement with the New Rochelle Board of Education after an investigation into complaints that the New Rochelle school district discriminates against persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The focus of the settlement was the planetarium at New Rochelle High School.

The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights confirmed to Talk of the Sound in February that it was investigating an ADA complaint involving New Rochelle High School.

"OCR is investigating a complaint alleging that the New Rochelle, N.Y., School District discriminates against persons with disabilities with respect to the lack of accessibility of the passenger loading zones, water fountains, the planetarium, and the auditorium at New Rochelle High School," said Jim Bradshaw, a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson in Washington, DC.

That investigation has now been completed and the work set to begin, according to Bradshaw.

The OCR investigation determined that three of the complaints were unfounded. Two of the complaints were resolved between the complainant and the school district. The remaining complaint concerned the planetarium at New Rochelle High School.

According to a report obtained by Talk of the Sound:

OCR determined that to enter the planetarium from the interior of the School, one must enter through a landing located in a stairwell between the ground floor and first floor of the original school building. Therefore, OCR determined that there is no interior accessible route to the planetarium. With respect to the exterior route to the planetarium, OCR determined that the existing curb cut was uneven and too steep. Additionally, a ramp at the exterior entrance was inaccessible because the landing was not big enough to allow for maneuvering, the handrails did not extend the complete length of the ramp, and the surface contained cracks at the top and bottom. Further, the exterior entrance doors were too narrow.

Although an existing facility, the planetarium offers unique programs to the public. Therefore, the District must have an alternate plan to provide access for the programs and activities conducted in the planetarium, or make structural changes to the entrance and route to the planetarium in order to meet the applicable accessibility standard.

On February 27, 2013, the District entered into the attached resolution agreement to resolve Allegation 3. OCR will monitor implementation of the resolution agreement. If the District fails to comply with the terms of the resolution agreement, OCR will resume its investigation.

The work is expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars.

"OCR and the district entered into a resolution agreement to resolve the allegation related to failure to provide an accessible route to and from the planetarium at New Rochelle High School," said Bradshaw. "The office will continue to monitor the district’s implementation of the agreement to ensure full implementation."

Under the Stipulation Agreement reached with the OCR, the New Rochelle Board of Education must complete all structural changes to the planetarium and surrounding area by August 31, 2013. The OCR will continue to monitor the District under OCR determines that all of the work has been completed in conformance with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

The OCR will also monitor the direct agreement reached between the two parties.

"OCR facilitated an agreement between the complainant and the district regarding an accessible restroom and the individual allegations regarding a specific student", said Bradshaw. "The other allegations in this complaint have been closed."

The ADA investigation by the U.S. Department of Education is separate from an ongoing inquiry by the U.S Department of Justice into ADA violations related to the failure of the district to evacuate two mobility-impaired students during an electrical fire in January 2013. There was a similar fire in June 2013 but the two mobility-impaired students were not in the building at the time.