Dear Chairman Bourne and Members of the City of Richmond School Board:
Thank you for all the hard work you do on behalf of Richmond Public Schools. Your board is off to a great start and I continuously hear high praise of your efforts from citizens all across the city. As you know, I continue to advocate for all of Richmond's children, most especially children with disabilities. The two attached documents are self-explanatory and troubling on multiple levels.
After John Lloyd, a pro-active parent of a child with hearing impairments, shared his concerns with me, I spoke to assistant Supt. Thomas Beatty. I asked Dr. Beatty for permission to visit Huguenot so I could see first-hand just how crowded [or not] the space is in this hearing-impaired room. I told him that I simply wanted to measure and photograph the room. I made it clear that I did not wish to photograph any children or disrupt the instructional day. Dr. Beatty politely declined my request and asked that I give him the opportunity to check into the situation and that he would get back to me.
Subsequent to that discussion, it is my understanding that Dr. Beatty, Harley Tomey and other RPS officials visited the space in question and proudly pronounced in a letter to Mr. Lloyd sent 2/14/2013 on behalf of RPS Supt. Brandon, that based on "Virginia Construction Code of Virginia" (sic), the room(s) "are more than double of that required of the law." The letter boldly claims that the district is required to provide only 20 square feet per occupant of the room.
As you can read for yourselves, Dr. Beatty's letter does not reference specific language of the Commonwealth of Virginia 2009 Construction Code, nor does it mention the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Guidelines that speak specifically to Mr. Lloyd's concerns about the crowded conditions of the room, a room where 15 people -- seven (7) children, each with a one-on-one interpreter, and a case manager -- are expected to have class.
To say that I was shocked by the tone and content of RPS' administrative response is understatement, given that VDOE's own guidelines clearly state:
4.4 Classroom Floor Area for Self-Contained Special Education Rooms A. The minimum net floor areas for special education classrooms including all features of the self-contained classrooms such as garment storage, teacher’s storage shelving, work counters, vestibules and incidental partitions, but excluding classroom toilet rooms, should be as indicated below:
1. Resource, consultation, evaluation and/or itinerant rooms with six students maximum should be 400 square feet (i.e., speech- language therapy, small group specialized intervention services). Add 50 square feet for each additional student.
As if using the wrong standard is not insulting enough to our intelligence, RPS also falsifies the number of occupants in the room. Only by subtracting five people from the room can RPS shoehorn their conclusion into their WRONG minimum standard.
A little more research shows further insult. The latest guidelines of the oldest and largest international correctional association in the world --The American Correctional Association (ACA), formerly known as the American Prison Association -- state:
" ... Cells/rooms used for housing inmates shall provide at a minimum 25 square feet of unencumbered space per occupant. Unencumbered space is usable space that is not encumbered by furnishings or fixtures."
I trust we can all agree that deaf children, and those who are expected to teach them in RPS, deserve to be treated better than convicted felons. Consequently, I ask that you, and your colleagues on the City of Richmond School Board, intervene in this matter. Further, I ask that you inspire Dr. Brandon and her staff to proffer a plan to improve the district's dismal 27 percent graduation rate of children with disabilities.
Carol A.O. Wolf