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Litigation Spotlight

DRP Successfully Enforces Consent Decree Requiring Newly Constructed Middle School to Provide Accessible Route for Individuals with Mobility Disabilities Inside the Auditorium

In a lawsuit brought under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, DRP successfully enforced a Consent Decree it had obtained on behalf of a middle school student who uses a motorized wheelchair. The Consent Decree required the School District to design and construct its brand-new middle school in compliance with federal regulations setting minimum standards for new building construction.

The Court ruled that the School District’s design for the auditorium violated federal law because it required students, teachers, parents and community members with mobility disabilities to travel a circuitous route outside the auditorium, down a number of hallways, and through the back-stage area to a platform lift to be lowered to the accessible seating in the front of the auditorium. In contrast, individuals without disabilities would be able to travel less than half the distance to access all seating via the four main aisles inside the auditorium. Individuals with disabilities would be required to travel a similar path outside the auditorium to reach the stage. The Court determined that the School District’s auditorium design violated three separate accessibility standards and that none of the School District’s claimed excuses permitted non-compliance, particularly when any difficulty in complying with the requirements of the ADA were a consequence of the District School’s own design choices.

In finding in favor of the student, the Court emphasized that the School District’s auditorium design was not consistent with the goals of the federal accessibility standards, including promoting inclusion, reducing stigma and potential embarrassment, and combating isolation, segregation, and second-class citizenship of individuals with disabilities.

The Court required the School District to re-design its auditorium to fully comply with federal law.

This decision, the first of its kind across the country, comes more than 30 years after the passage of the ADA and serves as a critical reminder that new construction must ensure access for people with disabilities.

The lawsuit is captioned S.F. v. School District of Upper Dublin, Civ. A. No. 17-4328 (E.D. Pa. May 18, 2021). Click here to read the Court’s decision.