Former President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, but 18 years later compliance among Virginia's public school systems remains a concern to the Virginia Department of Education.
The outgoing superintendent of public instruction, Billy K. Cannaday Jr., issued a memo June 13, a bit more than a month ahead of the act's anniversary on July 26, reminding districts of their obligations to meet the act. Though such memos -- dealing with topics such as required vaccinations for students and updates to the state's quality standards -- are common, this is the first such memo from Cannaday's administration dealing with ADA compliance.
Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Department of Education, calls the memo an "above-the-radar way" of reminding districts of their legal responsibilities.
"State and local governments must ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs, and activities because buildings are inaccessible," the memo reads.
This past week found a group of Richmond parents once again at odds with the Richmond Public Schools over compliance with a settlement agreement currently being overseen by a federal judge. According to Vickie Beatty, one of those parents, the district has yet to step up to the plate in honoring its ADA obligations.
"The settlement doesn't mean anything unless it's implemented," Beatty says, suggesting the parents could return to court.
The impetus of the letter, Pyle says, was a routine spot audit of school districts to ensure compliance on a number of federal program requirements. This year's audit looked at Wythe, Rockbridge and Augusta counties and the city of Hampton.
The last time the state considered Richmond's compliance with the act or on any other federal issue was in 2003.
According to Pyle, Bonnie English, a federal programs monitoring specialist with the state, noted that disability-act compliance remains enough of an issue that special notice was needed to remind school districts of their responsibilities.
"She found that there were violations and also some misunderstandings regarding what steps needed top be taken to bring a school -- and a program -- in [to] compliance," Pyle says. "Her findings led her to recommend that [Cannaday] issue this reminder."