Sharon O’Grady, who is a school nurse at Powers Ferry Elementary in east Cobb, filed the complaint with the federal department Friday. Her 16-year-old son, Brent O’Grady, is a sophomore at Kennesaw Mountain and was born with spina bifida, which causes paralysis to his legs. He has used a wheelchair his whole life.
On Brent’s first day of school last Monday, he couldn’t attend two of his four classes because the only elevator in the school was broken.
“I’ve always taught Brent that we adapt to the environment, but my God, you’re a federal building, breaking a federal law,” she said. “I don’t understand the issue of denying his education. It isn’t right to me … we do our part, I just want them to do their part.”
She said Brent called her that morning to say that the elevator was broken, so she immediately contacted the school district, which had the elevator repaired by 1:30 that afternoon.
“Last year we had an (Individualized Education Program) meeting for him and was told at that meeting that the elevators have issues,” she said. “The problems aren’t new. What’s new is that I’m making a stink about it. I don’t think (the district) gets that they broke a federal law and that they are a federal institution.”
Sharon went on to say that she doesn’t blame the school itself because Principal Dr. Kevin Daniel and his staff have been very “helpful and understanding” but that it’s not in their hands to add another elevator.
“It may never break again, which would be great, but there needs to be a second elevator in the event that something happens to the first one,” she said. “It may not happen before (Brent graduates), but at least the next kids could get it. Let’s do some prevention of this not happening again.”
On Friday, Deputy Superintendent of Operations Chris Ragsdale said a second elevator is his top priority in SPLOST IV, which is expected to go before the voters in March 2013, but in the meantime, he is trying to identify any additional funding that could be used to get a second elevator installed sooner.
“It not being a line item in SPLOST III poses difficulty to try and get it resolved,” he said, adding that installing a second elevator at Kennesaw Mountain could cost $600,000 to $800,000.
However, that doesn’t meant the district couldn’t use SPLOST III funds to pay for an additional elevator, but Ragsdale said it would all depend on how specifically the initiative is written.
He has verified with the school that the elevator is only being used for students with disabilities and not to move heavy furniture or equipment.
“I don’t believe they’ve had any other problems with it since the first day, and during that maintenance time, they ran it through multiple issues to make sure it doesn’t break again,” he said.
Kennesaw Mountain is one of 13 high schools in Cobb that is more than one story tall but the only one that doesn’t have multiple elevators.
Additionally, Ragsdale said that along with the elevator at Kennesaw Mountain, addressing ADA needs across the district is a priority with the fourth SPLOST initiative.
“If a school was built at a certain time … they are under the current codes at the time of construction, so if codes change, you try to do everything you can to improve that access at older facilities,” he said.
Kennesaw Mountain was built in 2001.
Cobb Schools Attorney Clem Doyle said that anyone could file a concern with the Justice Department or U.S. Department of Education. After that, the federal education department’s office of civil rights will then contact the district, request information and eventually come to a finding.
The process could take several months, he said.
In response, Cobb would need to resolve any issues identified, and if chooses not to, the U.S. Department of Education could withhold federal funding, Doyle said.
“The district takes this concern very seriously, and we have started speaking to district officials about this issue of access to education, based on the parent’s concerns,” he said. “In terms of a resolution, the district will be looking at what is necessary to resolve the issue, which includes but is not limited to SPLOST IV discussion.”