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Schools Behind in ADA Settlement, Carol Wolf Says

School Board member Carol A.O. Wolf lined up with other city citizens May 1 to ask City Council for a piece of the budget pie.

Wolf says the money is needed to pay for the school system's efforts to comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

It was a visit, she says, that she shouldn't have had to make.

"As it happened, I received one day's notice that 'someone' from the [School] Board needed to be there," says Wolf, critical of her fellow board members for not insisting that the "someone" be School Board Chairman George Braxton or Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman.

"It sends the wrong message -- having only one board member there [says] that we're not willing to fight, and fight hard, to get this money for ADA," she says. The School Board is "worn out from fighting" Mayor Doug Wilder, she says.

Worn out, perhaps. But still on the hook for an agreement it made with parents and children involved in a lawsuit against the School Board. The terms of that agreement state that school officials will use "best efforts" to bring existing schools facilities into compliance with the ADA.

Nearly all schools facilities lack necessary improvements, from wheelchair lifts and ramps to accessible bathroom facilities.

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson met with parties to the suit -- lawyers for the parents and representatives of the School Board -- to discuss the settlement agreement. That meeting was made more poignant by a ruling earlier this year that city government was not bound by the School Board's agreement to settle the case, leaving schools alone to pay for its mistake.

"The obligation of the School Board to bring its facilities into compliance with the ADA remains," says David Hopper, a lawyer representing the parents. "Though it's also not out of the question that further litigation against the city might be possible."

Vickie Beatty is frustrated that even with this settlement agreement in place, nothing's being done. Her disabled son, Davis, still can't go to the same school as his brother, Patrick.

"People with disabilities are put on the back burner all the time," says Beatty, who is among the plaintiffs in the suit. "There's always going to be something people think is more pressing, but the settlement has to take the priority."

Wolf, the acknowledged squeaky wheel on the ADA issue, says she's concerned that the School Board may not be meeting the legal requirements of "best efforts."

"I found it disappointing and ironic that on the night of Oliver Hill's 100th birthday [May 1], I stood alone before City Council and asked them to help fund the ADA, a federal civil rights law designed to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities," says Wolf, echoing a prepared statement she made to council.

"And I can't help but note," she adds, "… that there are only four schools of the 51 in our city that [wheelchair-bound] Mr. Oliver Hill can enter." S

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