Arlington Public Schools needs to do a better job of designing facilities that provide improved accessibility, candidates for School Board say, and should go well beyond consideration of physical disabilities in its design process.
“Unfortunately, accessibility issues have been longstanding in APS, particularly when new or redesigned schools open,” said Steven Krieger, one of five candidates seeking the Democratic endorsement for two open School Board seats.
Krieger and the other Democratic contenders – plus independent Symone Walker – recently submitted responses to a series of questions posed by Arlington Mental Health and Disability Alliance.
Krieger, who perhaps has been most outspoken in his criticism of the all-Democratic School Board during the campaign, pointed to a number of cases (including the new Alice West Fleet Elementary) where costly remedial efforts to improve accessibility needed to take place.
“While the money is problematic, the most offensive aspect is not the dollar figure, but what appears to be a basic lack of understanding about what is needed and how decisions impact students with disabilities in schools,” he said.
“We need to use the lessons learned from Fleet to move forward positively in our upcoming projects,” added David Priddy, another of the five candidates.
Sandy Munnell, herself a one-time county teacher, pointed to the former Arlington Career Center, which is being turned into an annex for Washington-Liberty High School, as another problem.
“The repurposing of the old Ed Center on Quincy Street calls into question how will student with disabilities – even short-term ones, like a broken leg – will be able to access the renovated space,” she wrote.
Terron Sims, who like Priddy has sought a seat on the School Board before, complained that the school system seldom casts a wide net in seeking feedback, robbing itself of the valuable information more input would provide.
“APS must get out into the community where the people are,” he said. “Too often, community leaders have to go fishing for information, when said information ought to instead be pushed down to them.”
Cristina Diaz-Torres, another contender in the Democratic mix, suggested the problem was deeper than individual construction projects, and could be improved with more community teamwork.
“A collaborative framework for decision-making minimizes the chance of overlooking or deprioritizing accessibility issues,” she said.
The five Democrats are seeking their party’s nod to move on to the Nov. 3 general election, where the seats of incumbent Democrats Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren – each of whom opted not to seek re-election – will be on the ballot.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee ordinarily would hold several days of in-person caucus voting to select its endorsees, but has pivoted to a vote-by-mail process due to the COVID-19 crisis. The deadline for voters to request a mail ballot has passed, but those who have requested them will have until the end of May to return them for counting.
As has been its practice in recent elections, the party is using ranked-choice (or “instant-runoff”) balloting, where voters can – but are not required to – list candidates in preference. Low-performing contenders will be scratched and their votes reapportioned as directed by voters, until two candidates emerge with a majority of votes cast.
Walker, who is waiting in the wings to take on the Democratic tag team in the general election, said both the county government and school system “lack a bona fide culture of inclusion for physical as well as socio-emotional accessibility.”
The school system, she said, “often falls short on execution, or is wildly inconsistent amongst schools.”
The questionnaire also zeroed in on a host of other issues, from attendance and discipline to student stress. It can be found at https://bit.ly/2YsuL6H.