In a blistering letter to the
Education Department’s top lawyer on Monday, the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that the investigation also showed that six school districts, which serve more than 50,000 elementary students, did not have a single school that is fully accessible.
“Nowhere is it more important to tear down the barriers to equal access than with respect to the education of our children,” Mr. Bharara’s office said. “But today, in New York City, 25 years after passage of the A.D.A., children with physical disabilities still do not have equal access to this most fundamental of rights.”
Mr. Bharara, in a brief statement, said his office had asked the city for a response to the findings, “including an outline and timeline of corrective actions that will remedy this unacceptable state of affairs.”
14-page letter gives the city 30 days to provide a response. The investigation had not been previously disclosed publicly.
Harry Hartfield, a spokesman for the
Education Department, said the department was reviewing the letter and remained “committed to increasing the accessibility of our school buildings.”
Mr. Hartfield said that the department had been cooperating with the investigation, and that as part of its most recent capital plan, it had set aside $100 million for accessibility projects.
“Our goal is to ensure that all our students have access to a high-quality education, and a student’s disability should never get in the way of their access to a great school,” Mr. Hartfield said.
In the letter, which was addressed to the department’s general counsel, Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, the government said the disabilities law reflected a “comprehensive mandate” to eliminate what had become pervasive discrimination against people with disabilities, which denied them equal access to “critically important government services and programs.”
“Our investigation found that New York City’s elementary schools still are not ‘readily accessible to and usable by’ individuals with disabilities,” Mr. Bharara’s office wrote, “a population which includes not only students, but teachers and family members as well.”
The letter described the effect the violations had on families. Mr. Bharara’s office said that it had spoken with one family that had gone to what the prosecutors called “extreme measures” to keep a daughter enrolled in her local school, rather than subject her to a lengthy commute to the closest “accessible” school.
“A parent of this elementary school child was forced to travel to the school multiple times a day, every school day, in order to carry her child up and down stairs to her classroom, to the cafeteria, and to other areas of the school in which classes and programs were held,” the government wrote.