“I guess I never realized there was no handicap access in the high school,” Susan Picarelli stated while addressing the Board Of Education (BOE) at the May 10th meeting. On April 13th, Mrs. Picarelli’s son, Vincent, injured himself while doing wrestling and had to have surgery on his leg. After the operation, the surgeon stated that Vincent would be classified as ‘non-weight bearing’ which means he could not put any weight, even toe-touch, on his injured leg; the Picarelli family notified the Guidance Department that their son would be out for a week and a half.
“I don’t think we were responded to in a appropriate manner as far as organizing his education,” Mrs. Picarelli said regarding how the matter with her son was handled. She made numerous phone calls, sent e-mails, and spoke with Guidance to re-arrange Vincent’s classes, four (4) of which were on the second floor. She was told that her son’s Biology class could not be moved due to logistics with the equipment in the room. The recommendation for Vincent was to home-school him five (5) hours-a-week.
“That’s ridiculous,” Susan responded. Three (3) hours of personal tutoring for Biology were then scheduled. It was when Mrs. Picarelli realized that her son would have numerous classes where he would basically be self-studied that she began to notice the situation with handicap accessibility in the high school. She wondered what will happen to students who would be unable to take a college-preparatory Biology class due to their physical limitations. She plainly stated, “These things have to be changed.”
During the discussion, Mrs. Picarelli mentioned that School Superintendent Patrick Spagnoletti stated that 11 years ago, back in 2000, a proposal was made in the school budget for an elevator in the high school but that it was turned down. Currently, Director of Plant Operations is looking at the cost and logistics for a chair lift.
“Why did it take 11 years?”, Mrs. Picarelli asked.
The superintendent responded that the school district has not seen the substantial number or severity of physically handicapped children who would require additional support to receive an education. He did state that over the summer, hopefully a chair lift will be installed in one of the stairwells. This will reduce the traffic able to use those stairs so it will become a ‘down-only’ staircase. The superintendent also stated the concern is that there might be children who are in a wheelchair and will need something heavy-duty which will cost more.
“”I know it’s not a good answer but it’s an honest answer that it comes down to economics,” Mr. Spagnoletti responded, “But, at this point, the Board has to bite the bullet and make that commitment.”
“I think it’s ridiculous that we don’t have access for everybody to all these classes,” Mrs. Picarelli continued, adding that her family pays close to $12,000 in property tax, “I’m speaking on behalf of [Vincent] and the people in the future that could be handicapped forever and what are they going to do about it?… I think that it’s an accident waiting to happen and I really think that it’s inexcusable that it’s gone on for so long.”
Mr. Spagnoletti addressed the parent, “I don’t disagree but in defense of the Board, the high school is one building and there are five buildings in the district and what happens is, and not to make excuses, but I could have another parent here who is very upset that their child got burned on an open radiator because not all the radiators are covered in the elementary schools and they’re saying it’s inexcusable, and you’re right.”
“But you look at basic education,” Mrs. Picarelli responded, “Where is the organization, especially when a child is out? I mean, I’m the one who had to make all the phone calls. Nobody made any effort for my and my family.”
The superintendent stated that the matter of how things were handled with the Picarelli family cannot be addressed it in public session but he assured her, “The handicap accessabilty has been an issue at the high school and we simply cannot not do anything about it anymore.”
“A parent should not have to have that additional stress of worrying about your child getting educated,” Mrs. Picarelli stated after the meeting. She stated that Vincent is currently doing a personal study and that for some of his class, although they are electives, he is not getting taught, “They’re sending him to the library. What if it was the beginning of the school year? You’re going to ship my son out? I don’t think so. It’s like he’s being punished and it’s inexcusable.
In closing, Mrs. Picarelli stated, “You shouldn’t have to beg for your child’s education, he’s entitled to it, as all students are.”
The Picarelli family has also filed a complaint with the Department of Education and are waiting to hear from them.