Methuen Access

Methuen Access

Methuen faces disability discrimination claim at high school

By Monica S
agermsager@eagletribune.com

METHUEN — The Office of Civil Rights has notified the city of a complaint filed by Sid Harris regarding numerous Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations at the high school.

Harris filed the complaints to the office following years of raising the ADA issues with the Commission on Disability, the mayor and city council.

“With over 40 years of experience with this city, I can easily conclude and prove that Methuen is discriminatory in nature,” Harris said. “The facts and data are irrefutable.”

Harris’s complaints center around the parking spaces at the high school not being accessible. This includes parking for the main entrance, auditorium, baseball field, ice rink and field house, he said.

This issue has prevented Harris from watching his grandson play hockey, he said. “The city hasn’t done anything,” Harris said. “I’ve done everything I can.”
The parking lot has been brought up in Methuen’s Commission on Disability meetings. Member Ashley Smallwood said she and others on the committee have raised the issue of handicap parking at Methuen High School for two years.

This year, the Tenney Grammar School, at 75 Pleasant St., and the Timony Grammar School, at 45 Pleasant St., both had new parking lots but the high school did not.

“It’s very frustrating as a commissioner thinking, OK that mom in a wheelchair or that dad who might use a walker still can’t walk into the front doors of the high school for their parent-teacher conference,” Smallwood said in a September meeting.

Advocate takes aim at high school accessibility
“A student who might be learning to drive and has mobility issues has nowhere to safely park and walk in the front door of the high school.”

Previously there were parking spots for people with disabilities near the front doors of Methuen High School, at 1 Ranger Road. During renovations, Harris said, that feature was removed.

“It’s against the law,” Harris said. In addition, the walkways around the high school are also not accessible, he said. This includes sidewalks around the school and routes to the baseball field, ice rink and field house.

Harris also noted the newly installed electric vehicle stations are not accessible.

“We shouldn’t be talking about these issues after the fact,” Harris said. “I believe the city should be allowing some oversight from people with disabilities to review these plans.”

Methuen’s most recent ADA Transitional Plan dates back to 2001.

“Despite the date of this plan, the City of Methuen has made considerable progress in advancing accessibility and continually working on improving its facilities,” ADA and DEI Coordinator Sandy Almonte previously wrote in an email.
The City addresses residents’ complaints monthly through reporting on SeeClickFix, according to Almonte.
At the time of writing, one complaint about the high school’s parking lot accessibility remains open.
The complaint was made on Oct. 5 by Commission on Disability member Kevin Hatch and discusses the distances traveled from parking spaces to an accessible entrance.
When accessible entrances cannot be located within 200 feet of a parking spot, a passenger drop-off area must be provided with 100 feet of the entrance, according to Hatch’s complaint.

The distance from the lower parking area, from the last accessible space, to the main accessible entrance is 559 feet. To the auditorium is 438 feet, and the ice rink entrance is 565 feet away.

The complaint also notes that the slope in eight of the parking spaces exceeds the maximum allowance of 2%. They are between 3.7 and 4%, according to Hatch.

Harris said he is open to many avenues to address these issues. He would like to have a mediation.

“Methuen is a discriminatory community,” Harris said. “The city has a history of discrimination, and accessibility is not a priority.”
Follow Monica on Twitter at @ MonicaSager3
Sid’s Note:

The first thing the city can do is hire a highly experienced ADA Coordinator. Ms. Almonte doesn’t know the history of this city in regards to accessibly. Collecting an $83K annual salary she was hired with having no previous experience in the required technical knowledge of accessibly guidelines governed by state and federal law. She’s being paid one of the highest salaries in the state as an ADA Coordinator with having no certification.

Her opinions in these matters don’t coincide with the law to which I’ve proven on many occasions. Accessibility compliance is overseen by the building commissioners office not her office. She has no authorization to determine what is or isn’t to be accessible and if she expresses her opinion it should be based on her experienced knowledge of the laws.

She provides only one service, and that’s to be the mayor’s public relations sound bite to make it appear Methuen is doing a great job. Well my “Facts and Data” shows that isn’t true, and with forty years of advocating for an accessible community I could lay hundreds, if not more… of ADA violations on the table and give just as many examples of this city intentionally ignoring compliance.

If Methuen wants to seriously address accessibly moving towards, departmental collaboration and oversight by a qualified accessibility consultant is needed on projects from start to finish. Ridding the good-ole-boy business as usual could be the main ingredient for success moving forward.

I’ve been transparent throughout the process. City council has been no help…total silence. I’ve asked on many occasions to help establish a process that would provide the necessary collaboration and oversight to avoid issues like these and move Methuen forward in making a community accessible to all.
I hope the city gets it right… civil rights and discrimination lawsuits are costly to a community. I ask once again, Let’s work together to get this done Mayor Perry.
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