Monday, May 18, 2009

Edmunds Accessibility - Myths and Reality

Wow. The outpouring of community support for making Edmunds accessible has been amazing. I bumped into a non-Burlington state senator and asked if he was aware... "oh yes!" Apparently he's gotten an earful from many constituents, which prodded him to make a series of calls. And this kind of thing is playing out all across northwest Vermont. Good. This conversation is long overdue.

Now, not all voices are singing strong in support. Indeed, we've heard from at least two people who seem against making the school in question accessible to children and community members with disabilities. A brave stance to take, no doubt. In response to some of their points...

1. We should make our decisions to provide the greatest good to the greatest number.
Hmm... a pro-tyranny of the majority argument seems a tough sell in Vermont.

2. While access to public school buildings may be an "inalienable right," we shouldn't support this right if it's costly.
Declaring something a "right" does just that... it de-emphasizes financial cost in light of community beliefs of right and wrong.

3. Spending money on kids with disabilities takes resources away from other kids.
Well, yes and no. Many public funds come with heavy restrictions on what they can and cannot be used for. E.g., federal nutrition funds for low-income kids cannot be used to build a new high school sports complex. Despite claims to the contrary, school finances are NOT a simple matter.

4. This is not a legal issue.
Of course it is! Anything and everything is a legal issue if the parties involved take it in that direction. We operate under the rule of law and when people disagree, they can turn to the law to resolve their differences. In this particular case, multiple legal experts have testified that the Burlington school district is out of compliance with more than one federal civil rights laws.

5. This is a $1.5 million elevator.
The current estimate is $500,000 for a four-building fire alarm replacement, plus $500,000 for a whole new electrical system for the middle school, plus $500,000 for a five-stop elevator in the middle school (including the attic). This is a $1.5 million fire safety, electrical, and accessibility proposal, NOT a $1.5 million elevator. The school district recently installed a 2.5-stop elevator at Burlington High School for about $250,000, as a point of reference.

6. One elevator in Edmunds won't solve the whole problem.
Correct! But it will solve a lot of it. And it will open up our public school to lots of children and community members currently screened out. And all of our children will benefit from inclusion and diversity, and from seeing the Golden Rule in practice. Also, the law is clear that this community is obliged to START implementing a solution, and this one elevator in the middle school will be a huge downpayment on this long-overdue obligation.

7. There's no money for this kind of thing.
Oh, there's always money. Especially in the United States of America... the largest, richest, most dominant county in the history of the world. It won't be easy, but it just takes work, smarts, connections and a bit of luck to find it. And we've got a great group of school administrators and commissioners who have all that. They only need to become absolutely determined to open up this school and end the discrimination and segregation... then get busy.

That's the reality.

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