Columbia Public Schools officials are planning to install a new elevator at Jefferson Middle School to ensure that the magnet school is available to all students who want to attend it, CPS Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said Wednesday.
At a meeting of the school board’s long-range facilities planning committee, Stiepleman said the panel wants the public to hear as soon as possible about plans for the additional elevator at Jefferson, a victory for parents who worried that their children could not take advantage of the school’s innovative programs.
Earlier this year, the 108-year-old facility transitioned into a STEAM school: one that features science, technology, engineering, arts and math. But Kate Graham — whose child has a connective tissue disorder and joint conditions that require a wheelchair — cannot attend despite being districted in that school.
“There’s a great deal of confusion to which students will be able to attend the STEAM school this year,” Graham said at a Sept. 9 school board meeting. “But for sure, it won’t be any child with a physical disability because they can’t climb up and down the stairs.”
Stiepleman said comments like Graham’s at previous school board meetings have been a wake-up call.
“Those comments were something we needed to hear. We need to move just beyond ADA compliance to actual accessibility,” he said, a reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Initially, construction for Jefferson Middle was going to be in two phases.
According to Randy Gooch, chief operations officer at CPS, the first phase included the addition of a new gymnasium to start construction in 2021. The second phase would address accessibility issues.
But Stiepleman insisted that, instead of having two separate phases, there should be a “phase 1 and a phase 1-A.”
“Being able to do that concurrently with the gymnasium is going to be a sigh of great relief,” Stiepleman said. “If we’re going to create a fairly innovative project for one of our schools, we ought to make it accessible for all beings.”
As for a possible $15 million bond vote in 2020 and how the school board might use the funds, Stiepleman declined to comment. He said that will be discussed at the facilities planning committee’s next meeting on Nov. 24.
Missourian reporters Emmy Lucas and Tran Nguyen contributed to this story.