Atlanta’s school superintendent says she wants to help a blind mother whose children are ineligible for bus service – but also wants to avoid a “legal quagmire.”
At Monday’s Atlanta Board of Education meeting, the AJC’s Molly Bloom reports, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen responded for the first time to public criticism of the district’s denial of bus service to Daffanie Todd’s children.
Fully blind since 2013, Todd cannot accompany her children – ages 9, 8 and 5 – to and from Continental Colony Elementary in southwest Atlanta. The children’s father lives across town and would have to take off from work to drop them off and pick them up each day. Todd doesn’t want the children to walk alone on a busy street with no sidewalks. But because they live less than a mile from Continental Colony, the district won’t let them ride a school bus.
So Todd kept the children home from school – for more than nine weeks.
Attorneys with Atlanta Legal Aid recently filed a lawsuit on Todd’s behalf, claiming the district’s denying bus service violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
In court filings, the district’s lawyers said accommodating Todd would cause “incredible harm and disruption” and “opens the door to countless claims” from other parents. They said that because Todd, not her children, is disabled, the ADA doesn’t apply.
It is true that most ADA cases against school systems allege that students are the victims of illegal discrimination. An example is the recent lawsuit in which the U.S. Department of Justice alleged Georgia violates the ADA by segregating some disabled students in “psychoeducational” schools.
“Those are very complicated issues that can set precedents not just for Atlanta Public Schools but for all districts across the country,” Carstarphen said Monday.
Regardless, the matter has created a public relations challenge for the school district. A private bus company volunteered to give free rides to Todd’s children through the end of the fall semester in December. The pressure now is to resolve the matter by January – without, Carstarphen said, creating legal obligations to others.
“As soon as we can figure out some way to make that possible,” she said, “we will be posting that on our website.”