Complaint filed against CPS for failure to make school accessible or provide accommodations

(Chicago) On March 10, a CPS school student and her mother filed a Federal Complaint with the United States District court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division against Forest Claypool and the Chicago Board of Education (CPS) for their failure to provide reasonable accommodations at Drummond Montessori Magnet School in Chicago. The student, identified in the complaint as G.P., was admitted in 2012 to Drummond’s Pre-Kindergarten Program. In 2015, at age seven, G.P. acquired a disability which requires the use of a wheelchair. Although opened in 2004 – 14 years after passage of the ADA and one year after CPS finished construction to remedy earlier accessibility violations in its Magnet School Program- Drummond could not accommodate G.P.’s wheelchair.

Drummond’s physical structure includes three floors and a basement that are joined by stairwells. Currently, there is a lift that can transport individuals who use wheelchairs from street level to the first floor, but there is no mechanism for transporting wheelchair users to the basement, the second floor, or the third floor. In order to attend classes not on the first floor, G.P. is forced to transfer from her wheelchair, sit down on the steps, and push herself up the stairwell. To avoid the risk of bumping into other students on the steps, G.P. moves between floors during class time, when the hallways are empty. Addressing the need for CPS to accommodate G.P.’s disability, her doctor wrote that ‘scooting’ up the steps is not a long term solution, takes away from valuable class time, and “denies her personal dignity.”

The complaint was filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act governs public services and protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, CPS is prohibited from selecting “the site or location of a facility” where the selection has the “effect of excluding individuals with disabilities.” Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires entities that receive federal financial assistance to make reasonable accommodations in their rules, policies, and practices when necessary to avoid discriminating against a person on the basis of a disability. In this case, CPS is a recipient of federal funding.

“My daughter needs to stay at Drummond, not just for academic benefits, but also because of the relationships and support systems she has formed over several years,” said Karen P., G.P.’s mother. Unlike traditional CPS schools, Drummond Montessori offers multi-age classes divided into Early Childhood, Elementary I, Elementary II, and Middle School groups. At Drummond, students stay with their classroom teacher for three consecutive years, allowing for significant bonding between the teacher and the student. “If she is forced to go to another school, her support system that has been built over the last four years would disappear,” Karen P. said. “When my daughter was recovering from her first major surgery, the thing that kept her going was knowing that she could go back to her school.”

Access Living, a disability rights organization that serves people with disabilities in Chicago, filed the complaint on behalf of G.P. and her mother. The complaint asks the court to order CPS to make Drummond Montessori as accessible as it should have been when the school opened in 2004 or provide a reasonable accommodation with the installation of a platform lift, or other, similar, relief.

“Disabled and non-disabled students have a right to access Magnet Schools in Chicago,” said Charles Petrof, Senior Attorney at Access Living. “CPS cannot force a Second-Grade student to choose between scooting up stairs on her bottom and staying in her school and community. It must find options to avoid putting her in that position.This case is intended to ensure that G.P. and other disabled students who follow her can benefit from the education and experience that Drummond provides.”

Gary Arnold
Public Affairs Manager