Carter County School Board discusses ADA regulations during Thursday meeting

Members of the county school board got together Thursday evening to discuss a variety of topics precluding their upcoming budget decisions, but one topic of public accessibility came up towards the end.

Gary Smith, director of the emergency management agency in Carter County, came to discuss the issue of ADA compliance in Carter County schools.

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 and set standards for all current and future buildings to meet in 1991 in order to provide more accessibility to citizens with disabilities.

“We did an ADA survey last summer in order to determine whether we were in compliance with the law,” Smith said.

The results of the survey recently came back to him, with more than 5,000 items on the list.

While not every item was something in need of any kind of fix, he said the large number of items was in part due to the age of many of the buildings in Carter County.

“Cities and organizations were supposed to come up with a plan to make their buildings ADA-compliant when the law first passed in 1990,” Smith. “As far as I can find, this did not happen in Carter County.”

He said the point of the law was to make sure every citizen has access to every service available.

In the case of Carter County schools, programs and classes need to take place within ADA-compliant locations. For buildings with needed changes, the schools can either make changes to the building in question or provide another location that is ADA-compliant.

Smith said many of the needed improvements are as simple as fixing some of the door mechanisms so they open easier. Others, however, are not so cheap to undertake. Door handles, for instance, need to be simple pull bars instead of the traditional round door knobs, and he said the latter is not as cheap as the board would originally think.

“This will require input from all school principals to figure out where programs take place and what is needed,” Smith said.

The survey results did not specify a specific deadline on when the improvements needed to occur by, but as ADA complaints can come from any level of the system, Smith said this needs to be a high-priority issue.

“This has to be a ‘good faith effort,’” he said. “I need your help to come up with a plan for each building. That is the next step in the process.”

The board agreed to have principals come up with a list of programs they host, both during and after school hours to see what their needs are so they can come up with a comprehensive plan on what improvements they can make to meet the requirement.

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