PHILADELPHIA — Upper Dublin School District may continue pondering its plans for its only middle school while an incoming student continues his lawsuit to make the middle school more accessible, a federal judge recently ruled.
The school district had asked the court to dismiss the complaint, claiming that student, who is identified only as "S.F.," lacks standing to sue because he has not yet started attending middle school and won't until the fall of 2019.
"The district's arguments are superficially appealing, but unavailing when applied to the particular facts alleged by S.F.," U.S. District Court Judge Gerald John Pappert, who is on the bench for Pennsylvania's Eastern District, said in his April 18 memorandum.
S.F. and his parents, identified as "K.F." and "E.I.," filed their complaint in September. They have asked the court to declare that Upper Dublin School District is in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. They have further requested that the court "compel the district to provide equal access to its middle school program," Pappert said in his memorandum.
S.F. is a fourth-grade student with cerebral palsy and currently attends Maple Glen Elementary School in Upper Dublin School District.
"S.F. uses a power wheelchair for mobility and a computer to communicate," Pappert said in his memorandum. "In the fall of 2019, he will begin middle school, which spans grades six through eight. The district's middle school program is located at Sandy Run Middle School."
Maple Glen is Upper Dublin School District's only wheelchair-accessible elementary school, while Sandy Run is the district's only middle school, Pappert said in his memorandum.
"Unlike Maple Glen, the buildings at Sandy Run are not wheelchair-accessible and do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, something [that] S.F. contends the district fully acknowledges," Pappert said.
The school district would have to renovate its facilities at Sandy Run to "ensure that the district's middle school program is accessible to S.F.," which could include building a new middle school or making "programmatic changes to the middle school program," Pappert said in his memorandum.
In a community statement issued about a week before the complaint was filed, Upper Dublin School District Superintendent Deborah S. Wheeler described options that were being considered for the "Sandy Run Middle School Facility Project." A project review committee recommended a long-term, district-wide capital plan that would include building a new middle school instead of renovating existing facilities, Wheeler said in the statement.
Wheeler has since announced her retirement.
A project update community meeting was scheduled for April 26.
The project and litigation can both continue, Pappert said in his memorandum.
"The only middle school program in the district is not accessible to S.F., and the district needs time, and likely a lot of it, to devise, agree upon and have approved a long-term plan it can implement," he said in the memorandum. "With less than 17 months until S.F. begins sixth grade, it is appropriate for the court to take up the issue now. The district can continue its efforts to devise and implement the appropriate plan to make its middle school accessible to S.F., but those efforts can go forward in the context of this litigation."