Columbia parents raise concerns about ADA compliance at new STEAM school

District discussing upgrades to building

Parents ADA compliance concerns

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Chuck and Katie Graham have a son in seventh grade with mobility impairments. 

"He has a hypermobility joint disorder, so he has a lot of pain from walking and has to wear plastic orthodic ankle braces," said Chuck Graham. 

He said his son's condition makes it incredibly painful to walk up and down stairs, which is why he had to move to Gentry Middle School last year. 

"Going up and down the stairs at Jeff Middle, he just couldn't keep doing that," Graham said.

Next year, Jefferson Middle School will make the transition to a STEAM school where students will get a hands-on experience learning about science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. 

The Grahams said they are not sure how the district will accommodate students with disabilities at the school when it could not update the building for their own child.

Michelle Baumstark, Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman, said the district is having discussions about how to update the building to make the entire building ADA compliant. The building has a tower with several stories of classrooms but no elevator.

Baumstark said the building is an engineering nightmare because it is more than 100 years old and was not designed with any future needs in mind. 

The Grahams said they do not understand why the district would choose a school with these issues.

"For the life of me, what I don't understand is that there's seven middle schools in this community. They picked the worst one in terms of ADA accessibility. And students with mobility impairments and students in wheelchairs, they need to use their brains to make a living. They can't go work construction or be in a labor trade or anything like that," Graham said.

"I understand they're working towards getting Jefferson up to standards, but to choose the school that you chose not to put an elevator in, is pretty blatant. And it's not just illegal, it's also immoral," said Kate Graham, Chuck's wife.

Chuck Graham said their son's struggles in the building before has discouraged them from putting their child's name in the lottery to go the STEAM school. 

Baumstark said the district will always make accommodations for each student's needs, or will use the best alternative if it cannot. She said that would include moving classrooms to different floors if need be. 

She said the district chose Jefferson Middle School as the location because many parents on the south side of town have been commuting to the school during construction of the new middle school. There are fewer parents with school-age children around Jefferson Middle School. The thinking is parents who want their child in the STEAM school will choose to make the commute.

"There's not a civil right to a short drive time to school. Children with disabilities have civil rights, and the fact that they're going to put a STEAM program in the most inaccessible school is violating an entire section of students' civil rights," Chuck Graham said.

The Grahams said they wish the district had chosen a more accessible school because the STEAM program would be a perfect fit for students with mobility impairments.

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