BEST school will be made
School agrees to install chairlift after failing to comply with 1973 law

MIDDLETOWN — After complaints from a Leonardo-based group, a new special education school opening on the second floor of the Community Fire House, Appleton Avenue, Leonardo, plans to be accessible to the handicapped.

"We have talked with the people involved, and we are in the process of setting something up so there will be access to the second floor," Dominick La Gaipa, Monmouth County business administrator, said. "They are going to put a chairlift in."

The location of the Bayshore Educational Services and Training (BEST) school, intended for middle and high school students with behavioral and emotional problems, made it inaccessible for students, parents or staff with physical disabilities, Equalizers’ Co-Chairwoman Carolyn Schwebel said. The Equalizers, founded in 1992, is a Leonardo-based public advocacy group which deals with handicapped-accessibility issues.

No students intending to attend the school are disabled, but the Equalizers’ concerns are for parents or others who need to visit the school, Schwebel said. The school is opening with no attention paid to the accessibility mandated under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, she said.

"There is nobody that requires (accessibility going to the school) at this point," La Gaipa said. "They are putting it in to meet the intent of the law."

Schwebel said her efforts were for this school and those to follow.

"My main concern is that they will have to remember next time to look more closely," she said. "I am kind of disappointed in the city department because they missed these issues before. I hope that there will be some enlightening."

After hearing of the project being built two blocks from her home, Schwebel said she sent out a memorandum to state, county and local government leaders. 

She also said she called Legislature representatives involved, the governor’s office and county Superintendent of Schools Michael Maddaluna.

She received word from an aide at Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. (R-District 13) that second thoughts about how the project will be carried out are being considered, she said.

"I think we accept the fact that they are noticing," she said.

Kyrillos’ office said that they approved the concept of building this type of school, but not using the particular building, Schwebel said.

She still wonders why things like this go unnoticed by politicians, she said.

"They passed (the Rehabilitation Act) in 1973, so it’s been almost 30 years since that law was passed," she said. "So it amazes me that they can say, ‘Gee, we didn’t know.’ "

Chairlifts have been successful at other schools and should work well in this situation, La Gaipa said.

The firehouse was built after the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and should have been made accessible, an Equalizers press release said.