Malissa and Jeffrey Studer parents of a second grader at Blockhouse Creek Elementary School has sent a letter serving as a formal complaint on behalf of their daughter and all other Elementary Students with mobility impairments in Leander Independent School District (LISD) in Texas. The complaint was sent to Office for Civil Rights in Dallas/U.S. Department of Education.
The Studer’s claim their daughter has been discriminated against on the basis of her disability, because the playground at Block House Creek Elementary is not physically accessible to her. All other children with mobility impairments in the LISD have also been subject to discrimination, because all of the Elementary School playgrounds in LISD are not physically accessible.
The student has a medical diagnosis of cerebral palsy and receives Special Education services from the LISD as a student with an orthopedic impairment. Elizabeth requires a walker to ambulate and is unable to access the playground at Block House Creek because:
• a vast majority of the playground equipment is surrounded by soft, loose wood mulch, which is extremely difficult to navigate across using a walker;
• it does not contain a significant number of activities that she can access independently, or with minimal assistance; and
• surrounding a section of the playground equipment, there is a wooden barrier several inches high, which she cannot independently cross with her walker.’
Most, if not all, of the other Elementary School playgrounds in the LISD have these same barriers to physical access. That is, the playground equipment is surrounded by a soft, loose ground cover, the playground does not contain a significant number of activities accessible to students with mobility impairments and sections of equipment are surrounded by a physical barrier that is not independently navigable by a student with a mobility impairment. As a result, the LISD has discriminated against this student,and all other Elementary School students with mobility impairments, by having facilities that are not accessible to persons with disabilities.
The complaint continues, “The LISD must also provide Elizabeth with services that are equal to, or as equally effective as, those provided to her nondisabled peers. 28 CFR 35.130(b)(l)(iii). Furthermore, the LISD must afford Elizabeth an equal opportunity to benefit from the services offered to students at Block House Creek. 28 CFR 35.130(b)(l)(ii). This means that the LISD must provide Elizabeth with services and facilities that are comparable to those provided to her nondisabled peers at Block House Creek. Charlotte-Mecklenburg(NC) Schs., 51 IDELR 196 (OCR 2008). By providing Elizabeth with no accessible playground equipment and by failing to make the playground area at Block House Creek accessible, the LISD has failed to provide her with comparable services, in violation of the ADA.”
The parents through their advocate asked that OCR open an investigation related to the claims contained herein, conduct an on-site investigation of all of the playground facilities in the LISD and require the LISD to make all of its Elementary School playground facilities physically accessible to students with disabilities, in accordance with the standards set forth in this complaint.
If the Office of Civil Rights determines that LISD is indeed in violation of ADA and Act 504, they may be forced to update all of their 22 elementary school playgrounds. It could also have a ripple effect for other school districts.