A Chicago Public Schools student has to get out of her wheelchair and push herself up and down stairs at her North Side magnet school because the building is not compliant with federal disability law, according to a lawsuit.
The girl, identified as G.P., has to leave class early at Drummond Montessori Magnet School, 1845 W. Cortland St., because the school has no elevator and only one wheelchair lift from street level to the school’s first floor, according to the suit.
G.P. gets to her second-floor classroom by “transferring from her wheelchair at the stairwell then scooting on her bottom up the stairs,” the suit says. She has to do this between classes to avoid getting jostled by other students using the stairs.
G.P. and her mother Karen P. filed the suit Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against CPS CEO Forest Claypool and the CPS Board. It accuses Chicago Public School’s of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A spokesman for CPS declined to comment on the suit.
G.P. entered Drummond Montessori in the early childhood classroom in 2012, according to Access Living, a nonprofit advocacy group assisting in the lawsuit.
In 2015, when she was 7 years old, she was diagnosed with Gaucher disease, a rare condition that leads to bone death due to lack of blood supply, according to Access Living and her doctor. The condition affects her mobility and requires the use of a wheelchair.
The three-story school was built in 1893, the suit states.
A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights by Access Living in 1994 resulted in a settlement that required CPS to make their magnet schools accessible to students with disabilities, the group said.
The magnet school was opened in the Thomas Drummond Elementary School building in 2004, the suit said.
In a November 2016 letter, G.P’s doctor expressed concern to CPS officials about G.P.’s safety and the impact on her education of the use of “scooting” as a long-term solution.
“Finally, forcing [G.P.] to move up and down the stairs on her bottom … denies her personal dignity,” Dr. Barbara K. Burton wrote.
In conferences with CPS officials, Karen P. was told G.P. would be moved to a new school because CPS was not going to make the building “accessible to individuals who require a wheelchair,” according to the suit. Karen also asked if G.P.’s classes could be moved to the first floor, but was denied.
“My daughter needs to stay at Drummond, not just for academic benefits, but also because of the relationships and support systems she has formed over several years,” Karen said in a statement provided by Access Living. “When my daughter was recovering from her first major surgery, the thing that kept her going was knowing that she could go back to her school.”
The suit asks the court to order CPS to make Drummond Montessori accessible to standards that should have been in place when the school opened in 2004, Access Living contends.
“Disabled and non-disabled students have a right to access Magnet Schools in Chicago,” Charles Petrof, senior attorney at Access Living, said in a statement. “CPS cannot force a Second-Grade student to choose between scooting up stairs on her bottom and staying in her school and community.”