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Handicapped and Angry, ADA Plaintiffs Regroup

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city and its school system over handicap-accessibility are planning a public powwow, fresh off a disappointing ruling from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Thursday, the plaintiffs and their new action group, Citizens for Full Access in Richmond, plan to hold a 6 p.m. town hall meeting at Richmond's Children's Hospital

In January, the 4th Circuit ruled that the Richmond School Board, and not the city, was liable for the school system's noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Really the purpose of it is that everybody says the city won — well, who won?" says Vickie Beatty, who along with her son Davis Beatty was among the lawsuit's plaintiffs. "The students didn't win this. Nobody won it except for [Mayor Doug] Wilder, who thinks it's a big win."

Davis, 12, uses a wheelchair and must attend handicapped-accessible John B. Carey Elementary, while his brother, Patrick, goes to William Fox Elementary. The crux of Beatty's argument in the lawsuit is that because Davis attends regular education classes, the school system should provide access to Fox.

She calls Wilder on the carpet. "Ethically, morally and [financially], his legacy is not going to be that he was the first black governor. His legacy is going to be that he stood in the doorways to these buildings and said no, you can't go here," Beatty says, drawing analogies between Massive Resistance in the 1960s and Wilder's insistence that the city is not responsible for financing ADA compliance at school buildings.

"We respected the court system, and I feel like we have just been kicked out the back door," she says. "All the finger-pointing has gotten us nowhere. The mayor … doesn't give a flying hoot about these kids."

In attendance at the meeting will be lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, available to talk about the implications of the recent court decision.

"I think the idea is to generate some momentum towards addressing these issues and to attempt to discuss them publicly," says Joe Mueller, attorney with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr, which handled the bulk of the case. "This is not over and we're not giving up."

Mueller says his law firm has handled the case pro bono, estimating its value at "well over $1.5 million."

Particularly disheartening to Mueller, in light of what he says is the just nature of the complaint, has been the city's refusal to even discuss some sort of out-of-court agreement that would bring the schools into compliance.

"We even approached the city about giving up our fees in return for the city participating in the remediation plan, and the city did not even want to discuss it," he says.

Despite his disappointment with recent rulings, Mueller says, "I would note that the lawsuit and the district court's order [to comply with ADA] remain in full force against the School Board." S

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