K-12 Education

Feds review accessibility at Iowa City school playground

Parents notified three months after district learned of complaint

(File photo) Department of Justice seal in the US Attorneys office at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(File photo) Department of Justice seal in the US Attorneys office at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice conducted an audit of Iowa City playgrounds last month after receiving a complaint.

Officials visited Iowa City schools Nov. 15, according to an email from Kingsley Botchway, director of equity and engagement, that was sent Thursday to parents.

The complaint concerns accessibility at a playground built over the summer at Shimek Elementary School, school board President Janet Godwin said.

The district was first notified of the complaint on Sept. 15, and Botchway said the district has been cooperating with the investigation. Botchway met with officials when they arrived for “only one day,” he said, to coordinate their schedules and provide clarifications about playground documentation.

“We were under instructions from the DOJ that this was a highly technical audit and that they were not interested in making their process public or meeting with the board, the administration, school staff, or the community,” Botchway said in the email.

At the earliest, Botchway said the findings could be sent to the district in early 2018. Officials with the Justice Department did not respond to The Gazette.

Godwin, who was elected to the board in September, said she was first briefed about the complaint Tuesday.

“We just moved four new board members into office, there’s a lot of onboarding and orientation that goes on,” Godwin said. “I have a lot of confidence in the district and in the work they do. In this particular case, I know they followed proper procedure working with the Department of Justice, and I’m confident that previous (board) leadership was aware and the district was handing the matter.”

Earlier this year, some Iowa City parents and advocates spoke out about accessibility issues at the Shimek Elementary playground while it was being constructed.

The mother of an elementary school-aged boy who uses a wheelchair, Melissa Krishnan, said during public meetings with district officials that even in the newer playgrounds, the wheels of his power chair would catch on the curb or idly spin in unkept synthetic wood chips.

Krishnan said Friday she did not file the federal complaint.

An accessibility and recreation expert, John McGovern — who is the president of the accessibility division of the W-T Group, an engineering firm, and co-founder of the National Institute on Recreation Inclusion — said that for playgrounds to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, they must satisfy three basic areas:

l The surface material must be accessible to someone using a mobility device,

l Ground-level play components, like a tick-tack-toe board, must be accessible to someone using a mobility device.

l And, depending on the number of components on an elevated level of a playground, there must a space for a child to transfer out of a mobility device or a ramp.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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