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School Officials Failed to Evacuate Students with Disabilities During School-Wide Evacuation
NEWARK, N.J. – The Watchung Hills Regional High School District Board of Education has agreed to settle allegations that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it failed to evacuate at least one student with a mobility disability during a school-wide evacuation and failed to have any policies addressing emergency evacuations of students with disabilities, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced today.
According to the agreement, on Oct. 7, 2014, the district failed to evacuate at least one student with a mobility disability during an unplanned emergency evacuation. Instead, the student was left on the second floor while students without disabilities were evacuated. The district also did not have a policy or practice that allowed students with mobility impairments to participate fully and equally during emergency evacuation drills.
The ADA prohibits a public entity from, among other things, excluding or denying individuals with disabilities from benefits the public services, programs, or activities. To comply with the ADA, the district must ensure that students with disabilities are afforded “meaningful access” to its services, benefits and activities, including emergency preparedness and emergency evacuations.
“Schools should provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “The ADA mandate is especially pronounced when it comes to programs involving student safety. Through this agreement, the district must enforce an emergency evacuation policy that ensures equal participation and the safety of students with mobility disabilities.”
The district has agreed to ensure that students with disabilities are able to participate meaningfully in emergency evacuations and evacuations drills. It has also agreed to provide ADA training to all of its employees who interact with students with disabilities. The district has adopted policies to ensure that students with disabilities will not be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the district’s safety protocols and practices, including emergency evacuations and drills. The district has agreed to adopt and implement evacuation plans for students with disabilities who have mobility impairments so that all students have the opportunity to participate in evacuations – whether actual evacuations or drills.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael E. Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Unit, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Division in Newark.
Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may file a complaint with the U.S Attorney’s Office at http://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/civil-rights-enforcement/complaint or call the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Complaint Hotline at (855) 281-3339. Additional information about the ADA can be found at www.ada.gov, or by calling the Department of Justice’s toll-free information line at (800) 514-0301 and (800) 514-0383 (TDD).