Nanaimo Ladysmith school trustees decided they can wait until the fall to ask for a report on accessibility of the district’s schools.
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools staff were previously directed to examine the feasibility of an accessibility audit and were slated to vote on a recommendation at a May 13 meeting. Instead, they deferred asking staff to conduct the audit and compile the report.
Mark Walsh, school district secretary-treasurer, told the committee that staff have connected with organizations such as the Rick Hansen Foundation seeking input on what an audit would entail, and have asked other school districts about their audit experiences. The district does a lot of work on accessibility on a year-to-year basis, but it’s predominantly reactive, Walsh suggested.
“We have a student, or we have an adult that has a specific accessibility need in our school and so we respond to it at that time,” Walsh said. “And so we feel that having an audit, and being aware of where our gaps are, means that we can be just a little bit more proactive as we plan for [our] annual facilities grant, as we plan to upgrade schools during seismic or expansion, that we’ve got our eyes on the accessibility issues that a school may have.”
Trustee Tania Brzovic wondered how families of people with disabilities would be able to provide input and Walsh anticipated commentes would go to schools, teachers, principals and parent advisory councils.
“There was a time when I went to [Bayview Elementary School] and I couldn’t go in through the front entrance that everyone else uses,” said Brzovic. “So we need to be really careful that what a person who doesn’t have a disability considers to be accessible may not be the same for a person who uses a wheelchair, or has sight issues, or hearing issues. Accessibility involves a whole lot of things, so if we’re not getting input from people who actually are experiencing some of these disabilities, then we’re not getting a full picture.”
Walsh said district staff had concerns about workload and trustee Stephanie Higginson said it might be best to wait to pass the recommendation.
“My preference would be that we don’t move this recommendation yet and we wait for staff to come back, having heard our concerns, and trying to give us an update on how to address our concerns within their overall workload,” said Higginson.
The recommendation was deferred to the September business committee meeting.
“I’m uncomfortable with any consultation happening until we, as a board, make a decision around what our expectations are for what the audit looks like,” said Charlene McKay, board chairperson. “I don’t think that we can consult when we don’t actually have a plan or a motion in place … I’m happy to wait until September to discuss this after some further reflection by staff.”