Federal Lawsuit Challenges NYC Department of Education’s Failure to Provide Accessible Restrooms and Other Accommodations for Public School Teacher

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Symbol of a wheelchair user in motion
Image: Symbol of a wheelchair user in motion via Wikimedia

 

March 10, 2021 – New York, NY – Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center, filed a federal lawsuit today against the largest public school district in the nation, the New York City Department of Education (DOE). The lawsuit challenges the DOE’s failure to provide a Bronx middle-school teacher with necessary and reasonable accommodations as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law. Read the complaint here.

Dayniah Manderson, a tenured English teacher with over 15 years of teaching experience in New York City public schools, uses an electric wheelchair and has been unable to use a restroom at her middle school building in the Bronx for the past 13 years due to the DOE’s failure to provide a facility that meets her access needs.

The DOE has also repeatedly denied Ms. Manderson other necessary accommodations including an unobstructed and secure evacuation space in the event of an emergency. Despite being placed on notice of these hazards, the safety room is continually used for storage of combustible equipment, meaning Ms. Manderson cannot navigate her wheelchair to the window and be safely evacuated from the building, placing herself and other students and staff at risk during an emergency. The DOE also refused Ms. Manderson’s request that her students be allowed to write in online journals so that she can grade them from her home computer because she is unable to physically carry 75 journals home from work.

Dayniah Manderson expressed, “Being able to say that I am a teacher who works with struggling public school students brings me a deep sense of pride. When there are barriers that prevent me from functioning optimally, everyone, including the students, suffer. For society to become more accepting of differences, we must expose our youth to those differences. What better way is there to teach resilience and compassion than to have a teacher there to show you how it’s done?”

For years, the DOE has disregarded Ms. Manderson’s multiple requests for a reasonable accommodation to provide her with an accessible restroom, forcing her to abstain from restroom usage during workdays that can exceed 12 hours, to limit her consumption of fluids and food at work, and to avoid taking prescription medications that require drinking water. Her health is already vulnerable due to her disability and doctors have repeatedly warned her that this practice further compromises her health.

30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, fewer than 25% of DOE schools are fully accessible due to the widespread presence of architectural barriers. This prevalent inaccessibility harms not only teachers and staff, but also students, families, and the general public who visit DOE’s buildings throughout New York City for education, entertainment, meetings, and voting. Due to these widespread barriers, despite her strong credentials, including selection to the DOE’s selective Principal’s Pool for aspiring school leaders, Ms. Manderson is significantly more limited in her ability to obtain a school leadership position at schools throughout the City.

Emily Seelenfreund, a Staff Attorney at DRA, said, “Educators have enough classroom responsibilities without having to shoulder the additional safety and health burdens of teaching without access to effective accommodations. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the DOE can respond to and accommodate a wide range of needs. This lawsuit aims to ensure that the DOE lives up to its legal mandate to effectively accommodate the needs of employees with disabilities.”

“The DOE has an obligation to provide accessible buildings and restrooms not just to its thousands of teachers and other staff members, but also to its over 1 million students, in addition to parents, guardians, visitors, and other building users throughout the city. Its repeated failure to properly respond to Ms. Manderson’s concerns is just a microcosm of a much greater access issue that needs to be addressed,” said Rebecca Sobie, a Senior Staff Attorney at DRA.

DRA’s goal in bringing these claims is to ensure the DOE provides accessible and safe restrooms and barrier-free emergency evacuation points in school buildings throughout the city, within the parameters of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

Contacts

Emily Seelenfreund eseelenfreund@dralegal.org 510-529-3429

Rebecca Sobie rsobie@dralegal.org 332-217-2350