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One Step Forward, One Step Back For Students With Disabilities?

Thirteen years after a family sued the San Francisco school district over its lack of adherence with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the district has installed its last elevators, ramps, and accessible toilets in its schools.

The district spent $250 million to fix 50,000 violations, the San Francisco Chronicle reported this week.

The work entailed adding elevators, wheelchair ramps, new light switches, wider doorways, wheelchair lifts, Braille signs, and water fountains accessible from wheelchairs, the Chronicle reported. In the process, the district spent another $550 million to upgrade schools in other ways, including replacing roofs, heating systems, windows, repainting, repaving playgrounds, and so on.

Complying with the ADA took so long in part because San Francisco has the oldest school building inventory in California and the city's hilly landscape made work more challenging, the school district's facilities director told the newspaper.

Another 50 schools and district buildings not part of the lawsuit still have to be upgraded to comply with ADA.

Meanwhile in Boston, a judge dismissed a lawsuit last week over that district's routine delays in the enrollment and evaluation of preschoolers with disabilities, the Boston Globe reported.

Not because the district was found to be complying with a key provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but because the judge said parents of the two toddlers at the center of the case sued prematurely, without exhausting all other remedies the federal law provides, the newspaper reported.

The lawsuit said the school district had "subjected more than 200 preschoolers, some of its most vulnerable youth, to illegal wait-listing."

The Boston district has struggled to keep up with a surge in the number of preschoolers with special needs. The district acknowledged those struggles earlier this year.
"This backlog resulted from a shortage of seats in [Boston public schools] early childhood special education settings," a district memo from May said.

A delay between early childhood intervention and preschool for children with disabilities can mean losing progress made in those early years. For some children, early intervention can mean avoiding special education services forever. Easter Seals notes that 11 percent of children in early intervention programs are never enrolled in special education.

Enrollment issues with preschoolers hasn't been the only trouble with Boston's special education program. The Globe reported earlier this year that the district is also wading through a huge backlog in reviewing students' annual education plans.

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