After visiting nearly every high school in Chesterfield County, one Chesterfield resident claims there are numerous instances where Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) fail to uphold ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations even as county officials say otherwise.
“These places are supposed to be accessible for a wheelchair-bound person without having assistance, and certainly that is not the case,” said Tammy Loving, a recently retired civil engineer who once worked designing and drawing site plans for commercial sites and neighborhoods. “It was very disappointing to see how the county has chosen not to follow the law.”
Diagnosed with Crone’s disease and on disability since 2007, Loving has retired from a job with responsibilities that once included the planning of ample parking, a percentage of which had to be set aside for the handicapped.
Her curiosity to embark on a county-wide investigation began two years ago from an incident she personally experienced while attending a high school baseball game at Meadowbrook High School, where she discovered access to the stadium from the handicapped parking a bit arduous. She then started to notice other ways the school’s stadium itself posed a problem for her, such as a lack of ramps leading from the parking lot and inadequate sidewalks.
“At Meadowbrook my wheelchair wouldn’t even go through the opening in the gate they had in the fence,” she said, “so unless you got out of the wheelchair and closed the wheelchair up, you wouldn’t have been able to get a wheelchair through there... and I just know that I can’t be the only person out there that needs access to these fields.”
A month ago Loving took her concerns to a School Board meeting, where she presented photographic evidence of her findings, expressing how numerous county schools were essentially breaking laws that mandated the accommodation of persons with disabilities. She said this issue places a physical and social barrier for the people in our community.
“It’s just with all the money we have in our county, that doesn’t make sense to me,” Loving said.
She believes this is not only a problem of the School Board, but the county’s planning commission and building inspectors because they are the ones “approving the plans to allow the county’s school system to build these schools, these large athletic complexes, without the right accommodations,” she said.
According to Shawn Smith, spokesman for CCPS, the county school system isn’t doing anything wrong: “We have no citations for non-compliance with the act. We continually review possible areas where we might be able to provide additional accessibility and convenience.”
Loving said she only wants the county to do the right thing and to recognize it is not just an inconvenience. But to some county officials, such as Interim Building Official Richard Witt, the county is open to looking into the issue.
“We would look into it. I don’t know either way because this is the first time I’ve heard of it,” Witt said. “It’s not something we’ve looked for as far as existing schools. Obviously with the new schools they’ve built, [they] do meet it. If she would want to give us specifics and give us the information, we would look in to it. It really becomes more of a School Board issue... for existing buildings, and I know they have a different standard they must abide.”
Loving said she didn’t see a single school that she would consider having followed all the rules and were up to date as far as compliance. “There’s too much money in our county,” she said. “This is not some little hick town out in the mountains somewhere that doesn’t have any money at all.”