Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

Congressman Serrano Leads Joint Effort to Help Ensure Students With Disabilities Can Access Public Education

Apr 20, 2018
Press Release
In group letter to GAO, Ranking Members urge agency to analyze and issue report on public schools’ compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act and removal of barriers to accommodate disabled students

The Bronx – This week, Congressmen José E. Serrano, Jerrold Nadler, and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office requesting the agency to evaluate and issue a report on public schools’ compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The three Members are the Ranking Member of the House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, and Ranking Member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, respectively.

According to the ADA, public buildings and spaces are required to be accessible for individuals with disabilities. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with disabilities have the same right to a public education as their peers. Yet the reconstruction of many facilities and the removal of other barriers to fully accommodate these students in New York City public schools, and likely throughout the rest of the nation, has been subpar over the past 30 years. According to a 2015 report issued by the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, nearly 83 percent of the City’s public elementary schools are not “fully accessible” for students with disabilities. In the letter, the members called on the GAO to analyze and issue a report on school’s ADA compliance nationwide and what can be done at the federal and local level to ensure these students are able to fully access the school of their choice.

“Students with disabilities, from New York City to coastal Virginia and all across the country, are entitled to a ‘free, appropriate public education’ under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, localities continue to undermine the law by limiting the number of schools students with disabilities can physically access through negligence and lackluster enforcement of the ADA. That is why we write to request the Government Accountability Office to analyze and issue a report on ADA compliance in our nation’s schools,” the members wrote.

The letter asks the GAO to look specifically into the following matters: ADA compliance rate, compliance data available at the local level, plans in place to ensure removal of barriers necessary to provide equal access.

Full text of the letter below:

 

April 19, 2018

The Honorable Eugene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW, Room 7100
Washington, D.C. 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, representing an enormous step forward in requiring public buildings and spaces to become fully accommodating and accessible for individuals with disabilities. While significant progress has taken place since its passage more than 27 years ago, many Americans continue to face difficulties in physically accessing public spaces. Few have become more glaring than our nation’s education system, which often keep students with disabilities from the school of their choice in their neighborhood, and the proper education they deserve.

In 2015, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York issued a scathing report on the state of compliance among New York City’s public schools system. The report found that nearly 83 percent of the City’s public elementary schools are not “fully accessible.”[1] This is simply unacceptable and places an undue burden on these students and their families, especially those living in underserved communities of color that continue facing other systemic barriers in most aspects of their lives.

While the City has acknowledged poor ADA compliance in its schools, the response in addressing the situation has been underwhelming. If ADA compliance rates are so poor within one of the country’s wealthiest cities, one can only imagine just how dire the situation may be in other states and school districts that are not so fortunate.

Students with disabilities, from New York City to coastal Virginia and all across the country, are entitled to a “free, appropriate public education” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. However, localities continue to undermine the law by limiting the number of schools students with disabilities can physically access through negligence and lackluster enforcement of the ADA. That is why we write to request the Government Accountability Office to analyze and issue a report on ADA compliance in our nation’s schools. Below is a series of questions we would like to see addressed in such report:

  • What is the estimated rate of ADA compliance among the nation’s primary and secondary schools?
  • Do state and local education agencies have adequate data to ensure schools are compliant with the ADA? If not, why not?
  • Under the ADA, public entities are legally obligated to identify all programs that deny equal access to persons with disabilities and create a detailed plan to ensure removal of barriers necessary to provide equal access. What percentage of school districts have such plans in place and of those, how many comply with these plans?
  • How can the federal government work with state and local governments, and state and local education agencies to ensure compliance among schools?
  • How do state and local education agencies ensure physical accessibility of new school building projects through the contracting process?
  • How can Congress and the federal government strengthen enforcement of the ADA to ensure full compliance among the nation’s schools, both through legislation and agency rulemaking?

Thank you for your continued commitment to holding our government accountable and for providing a thorough analysis measuring the impact our laws have on the American people. We look forward to working with the Government Accountability Office to move this project forward, so we can better uphold our commitment to students with disabilities and provide them with the education they so deserve.

Sincerely,

 

José E. Serrano

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,

Science, and Related Agencies

House Committee on Appropriations

Jerrold Nadler

Ranking Member

House Committee on the Judiciary

Robert C. “Bobby” Scott

Ranking Member

House Committee on Education and the Workforce

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Congressman José E. Serrano has represented The Bronx in Congress since 1990.  He is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.