Only 335 of 1,818 public schools in the city are fully equipped for students with disabilities – and one central Brooklyn district has no accessible schools at all, a new report shows.
The tally of public school buildings completed by nonprofit Advocates for Children shows that even a majority of schools in a special district created for students with severe disabilities is not fully accessible, lacking items such as wheelchair ramps and elevators to allow students get to class.
The result is that too many students with disabilities are shut out of city schools, Advocates for Children Special Education Policy Coordinator Maggie Moroff said Tuesday.
“It keeps kids from being able to attend the same schools as their peers,” said Moroff. “The choices are so incredibly limited for students and parents with accessibility needs.”
Roughly one-third of the city’s schools are partially accessible to people with disabilities, according to the report.
This means that some areas of those buildings can be navigated by individuals who use wheelchairs or have sight or hearing impairments.
But even within the city’s District 75 collection of 60 public schools for students with severe disabilities, only 11 primary school sites are 100% accessible now, according to the report that is based on city data.
Manhattan mom Yuvania Espino said that means that her daughter Mia, 9, who has cerebral palsy and a muscular disorder, was unable to move to a new classroom with her peers at the start of the school year in September.
Mia has to stay in her old classroom on the first floor — instead of moving into a third-floor room with her classmates at Public School 138 — because the District 75 school in Harlem doesn’t have an elevator and Mia is unable to climb stairs.
“She’s constantly asking where her friend is and I have to explain that he’s moved to a different floor,” Espino said. “She’s been very sad about not being able to go to where he went.”
The situation is particularly acute in school District 16 of Bedford-Stuyvesant, where no schools at all are fully accessible.
District 16 Community Education Council President NeQuan McLean said that city officials are working to bring one school building in the district up to code, but more action is needed.
“We need to make sure that our buildings have the ability to accommodate every family’s needs,” McLean said. “We are ready to work closely with the city to make sure that District 16 is brought up to par.”
District 16 is the only one of the city 32 geographical school districts with no fully accessible schools at all, but many districts have few accessible schools, according to the report.
The Advocates for Children tally shows that in 28 of the city’s 32 school districts, less than one-third of schools are fully accessible and in in seven districts, less than 10% of schools are fully accessible.
The city school system, which relies on many old and outdated buildings, has taken heat for failing to provide accessible schools for years.
In 2015, a probe conducted by then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara found that only 17% of city elementary schools were accessible to individuals with disabilities, a figure Bharara called “abysmally low.”
Mayor de Blasio added $150 million in capital funding to address the issue in the budget adopted by the city in June.
But Moroff and other advocates say the city will need to spend another $750 million to make at least one-third of schools in each school district fully accessible by 2025.
City Education Department officials say the city is already making a number of efforts to address the problem, such as conducting accessibility surveys for each city school and posting the information online.
Education Department spokesman Doug Cohen admitted the city still has work to do, but said the system is making progress.
“We’re committed to increasing school accessibility citywide, and we’ve invested an additional $150 million in capital funding to make buildings more accessible, hired new staff, and increased school accessibility information for families,” Cohen said.