Chairmen Nadler, Serrano, Scott Release Groundbreaking GAO Report on 30th Anniversary of ADA that Finds Two-Thirds of U.S. Public Schools Have Barriers That May Limit Access for Students with Disabilities
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, José E. Serrano (NY-15), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor released a groundbreaking U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled “K-12 Education: School Districts Need Better Information to Help Improve Access for People with Disabilities.” The report found that a staggering two-thirds of public schools have physical barriers that limit access for people, including students, with disabilities and may be out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) nearly thirty years after its passage. School districts that participated in GAO surveys and in-person site assessments cited a lack of outreach, technical assistance, and guidance from the Department of Justice, which is responsible for the majority of enforcement efforts of the historic civil rights law, as well as funding constraints as major obstacles to bringing their facilities into full compliance. The report was requested by the three Members in April 2018.
“Our public schools and the education they provide are critical in helping students reach their full potential and achieve their dreams,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). “Unfortunately, this GAO report shows that thirty years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many of our schools still have significant physical barriers that could limit access for people with disabilities. I urge the administration to immediately adopt GAO’s recommendations to address the prevalence of these barriers, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to continue to advance the fight for disability rights.”
The most common physical barriers cited were steep ramps and lack of accessible door hardware, which were typically found in common areas, like restrooms, interior doorways, and classrooms. While seemingly minor, these design flaws can have profound impacts on the safety and well-being of individuals with disabilities, especially students who spend the majority of their day on campus. The report also found that in the rush to make school campuses safer in the era of widespread gun violence and mass shootings, with a lack of coordinating guidance, these efforts often come at the expense of accessibility upgrades or inadvertently jeopardize the safety and security of people with disabilities.
The report focused on three key recommendations that the Department of Justice, and other federal agencies that assist with ADA enforcement, must take to help school districts improve compliance:
The impetus for the study came after the former U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of New York issued a scathing report in 2015 on the state of compliance in New York City’s public school system. The analysis found that nearly 83 percent of schools were not fully accessible. Other local and national media, and former New York City Public Advocate Tish James, had also reported on the City’s failure to provide adequate accommodations for students with physical disabilities.
Even before the pandemic, chronic neglect of America’s public schools forced students and educators across the country to learn and work in outdated and hazardous school buildings. Now, the COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated the consequences of our failure to make necessary investments in school infrastructure.
On May 15, House Democrats passed the Heroes Act, which directs more than $100 billion in emergency education funding to help schools cover unexpected costs that are necessary to reopening safely. It also provides nearly a $1 trillion in state and local funding to fill unprecedented budget shortfalls that will likely lead to devastating cuts to public education.
On July 1, House Democrats passed the Moving Forward Act, which invests $130 billion toward repairing and modernizing school facilities that endanger the health and safety of students and school staff.To access the full GAO report, please click here: https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-448
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