ADA improvements part of Fort Worth school bond package

Posted Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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ADA compliance The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities and transportation. In Texas, accessibility for special education students is reviewed by the Texas Education Agency. School districts must present a corrective plan when issues are raised. Proposition 1 of the Fort Worth bond proposal includes an estimated $1 million to make ADA improvements across the district. Much of the work is centered on campus sports facilities, cafeterias and office counters. Fort Worth school leaders said the work covers about 25 percent of the issues raised in a 2012 state review. Sources: Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Texas Education Agency, Fort Worth school district

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One in an occasional series about the Nov. 5 Fort Worth school bond election.

Tucked in the Fort Worth school district’s estimated $490 million bond package is a “to-do list” that seeks to make cafeterias, locker rooms and office countertops more accessible.

About $1 million of the package is earmarked to fix issues singled out by the state as not being “ADA compliant,” or not meeting guidelines that make facilities more friendly and accessible to students, parents and employees with disabilities.

“ADA is the American Disabilities Act and all public buildings have to comply with ADA laws,” said Art Cavazos, chief of the operations for the district. “It’s very important for us to continue to improve on that.”

Renovations that will bring the district closer to compliance are included in a sweeping bond package that goes before voters on Nov. 5. Early voting is currently underway. The package includes universal preschool, classroom additions, security upgrades, two magnet schools and replacement of aging buses.

Much of the renovations center on accessibility to sports facilities, cafeterias and counters at about 35 schools and other district sites, Cavazos said.

Handrails, water fountains and wider serving lines are among issues documented in a district inventory of needed renovations. Some locker room showers need to be updated without “curbs” for better access, Cavazos said.

“It’s continuing to improve our facilities and the accessibility for all our students,” Cavazos said.

Addressing concerns

The district made “huge amounts of improvements,” using funds from the 2007 bond program, but more work remains, Cavazos said.

The necessary improvements stem from a 2012 Texas Education Agency report that includes an assessment of facilities that meet the needs of special education students.

“They have some areas to address,” TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.

She said the district has been working on the issues. Typically, when reports list deficiencies, districts respond with a corrective plan. This process, called performance-based monitoring, includes accessibility for special education students.

“The purpose of this is to try to get the districts back on track,” Culbertson said of the report.

The school district drafted a list of needed work and included it as a line item for ADA compliance as part of Proposition 1, school leaders say. Proposition 1 also includes funding for new pre-kindergarten classrooms, technology and security upgrades.

The list addresses locker room concerns at Daggett Middle School and toilet stalls that can’t be accessed by wheelchair at Eastern Hills High School. At Farrington Field, ramps into the stadium need handrails on both sides. At Handley Field, the ticket counter is too high and the ramp to the front gate requires a rail, according to the inventory.

Work in progress

School districts continue to need renovations as laws protecting special education students and disabled populations evolve.

Public schools must respond by making improvements that allow all students to participate fully in campus communities, said Sarah Rose, director of a minor in disability studies at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Rose, who specializes in disability history, said full access to campuses — from kindergarten through college — is a work in progress. Compliance with ADA state and federal guidelines continues to be an issue for public schools because many districts have aging buildings, Rose said.

“Accommodations are an evolving process,” Rose said.

Additionally, technology and medical advancements that help humans can result in new populations of people who need access.

Rose said an example of the latter surfaced on college campuses after World War II. At that time, antibiotics and improved, lighter wheelchairs ushered a generation of college students who needed better access to campuses.

“Students with wheelchairs who were veterans and could use the GI Bill couldn’t get through the doors,” Rose said.

At Fort Worth schools, cafeteria lines at several schools are listed as being too narrow. Forest Oak, Meadowbrook and Leonard middle schools need to fix serving lines or snack lines.

“What kind of a message does that send?” Rose said, adding that cafeterias are meeting places where youngsters learn about inclusion and acceptance.

Sports facilities are another area in disability access that advocates follow, Rose said. Dugouts, locker rooms, showers and concession stands need to be welcoming to everyone, including a coach who uses a wheelchair, Rose said.

“These are really important provisions and I’m really glad they are working on them,” Rose said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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