Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 7, 2013

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

Lowndes County School Superintendent Dr. Daniel Boyd is taking steps to address handicap accessibility issues raised by a Hayneville Middle School parent for her 11-year-old special needs daughter after seeing a letter to The Lowndes Signal written by the mother.
Mattisa Moorer wrote that her daughter, Kerstin, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy since infancy and was recently diagnosed with both scoliosis and epilepsy.
Moorer said in her letter to the editor that Kerstin’s class is located in a basement-like area of the school at the back of the building.
She said her daughter has to circle the building in order to gain access to the main floor. And, she said, the sidewalk is “so bumpy and in need of repair that it is difficult to navigate in her wheelchair.”
Moorer also wrote the sidewalk is not covered so that Kerstin “is literally left outside in the rain” and there are no wheelchair accessible parking paces at the school.
Boyd said, “It is always our intention to treat all students fairly to make sure we do not discriminate against a student despite their handicap.”
He said Hayneville Middle School is the location for students described by Dr. Deann K. Stone, coordinator of special education, as “exceptionally intellectually disabled.”
Boyd said, Kerstin is the only such student at the school being mainstreamed into other classrooms.
“There are advantages of having the classroom in the basement or the lower area of the building,” Boyd said. He pointed out that buses could park close to the door. And Stone said the door Kerstin enters is “one of the more handicap accessible because there are no stairs or anything there. It is just flat into the building.”
Boyd also called the lower part of the building “the most suitable place for all of our (intellectually disabled) students who are in that classroom.”
However, he acknowledged, “There are disadvantages. When a student is mainstreamed, it is a little bit difficult for the students to get to the main part of the building. But the benefits of having the classroom in the basement area of the school far outweigh the disadvantages.”
After seeing the letter from Moorer, Boyd told Stone, “In the event it is raining, Mattisa Moorer does not have to take Kerstin to the classroom, makeup work will be sent to her. But of course that is up to her.”
When told of that response, Moorer said, “As far as the school system saying that Kerstin would be excused from school when it’s raining is setting a double standard. Will all other students be excused because of rain? I’m not looking for this double standard. I’m looking for her to have the same access and opportunities as the other students.
Boyd said, “It is unfortunate that we can’t control acts of God, but we can’t build a building or school especially for her. We have to deal with the situations that we have here with the understanding that parents and individuals be a little understanding that we don’t have unlimited resourses to do things perfectly.”
Boyd said it was possible the bumpy sidewalk could be smoothed out. “I don’t know yet how much we would be able to do. Perhaps we could pour a pad.”
As to the lack of handicap marked spaces, Boyd said, “There are no parking spaces period. So, she (Moorer) could pretty much park anywhere she needs to. But just to be safe, we are going to go ahead and stripe a handicap parking space for her.”
Boyd said access to the main part of the school will remain lengthy, but there are some possibilities that he would look at.
He said, “I wished she would have mentioned it to me prior to going to the editor.”
Stone and Hayneville Middle Principal Antonio Williams said they never received complaint from Moorer.
Stone said Moorer “has not addressed any of these concerns to me… Before you would write the editor, you think at least she would contact the school.”
Moorer said she did contact school officials by email directed to Stone, Boyd and Kimberly Washington.
“I addressed accessibility concerns with them back in January of this year. I did not receive a response from them. The only response I’ve received is the ramp that was placed at the cafeteria over the summer and last week when I contacted Dr. Stone and Mr. (Jason) Burroughs (operations) about the air being out in the “self-contained” classroom for three straight days.
Stone said, “She did email me last week about the air conditioner being out. I immediately contacted Mr. Burroughs, and by the time I got over there, in less than 30 minutes, the air condition had been fixed.” She said Moorer also requested shorter school days.
School Principal Antonio Williams said, “No sir, not once have I received a letter or verbal complaint about the accessibility of the building.”
Moorer confirmed that she did not contact Williams.
Moorer closed her letter to the editor saying, “I will ensure that my child ‘receives the best education possible” and that she becomes a “responsible citizen, efficient communicator, life-long learner,’ and ‘fierce competitor on the economic world stage. I will speak up! I am my child’s vice! She will not be the forgotten student!”
Boyd said, “I’m looking into all those particular matters.”
According to Stone there are four students in Kerstin’s class with a fulltime aide.
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