Students push for better evacuation procedures for people with disabilities

Students push for better evacuation procedures for people with disabilities

Policy says no one can leave before signal by first responders

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The Montgomery County school board meets Feb. 10.

File photo

Middle school students are calling on the Montgomery County school board to let students with disabilities evacuate school buildings without waiting for first responders.

Now, students who use wheelchairs or those who cannot move well on their own must wait for professional help before evacuating a school building, including during a fire or when there’s a threat, according to MCPS policy.

“Up and down movement of disabled persons in stairwells should never be attempted by untrained personnel,” the policy says. “Should their removal from the building be required, trained fire fighters or rescue squad personnel will perform this task when they arrive at the school.”

The policy says “only under life threatening conditions” should students with disabilities be evacuated by non-emergency personnel.

A group of six students told the school board last week that they believe the policy does not comply with state law or the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 2017, the Maryland legislature passed a law that requires all school districts to update their emergency plans to allow for the evacuation of students, staff and visitors with disabilities. In August, state school districts must submit reports showing how they have complied with the new mandates.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires students to be allowed to participate in evacuations and drills.

“I know that I would be traumatized if I had to wait inside a burning building while my classmates evacuated,” said Ayush Dave, a student at Rocky Hill Middle School in Clarksburg. “… How would you feel knowing that, in a fire, your child would be left upstairs to wait for the fire department?”

The MCPS website shows the school district has developed an “emergency evacuation accommodation” form for students with individualized education plans. The form has two parts: one to detail the legal requirements of the form and the other to detail the accommodations the student needs.

Students who testified at last week’s school board meeting were part of a First Lego League team. First Lego League promotes creative thinking and engineering.

As part of a competition associated with the league, local students invented an “indoor zip line” that runs inside school stairways to evacuate disabled students and staff in emergencies, according to Raunak Banerjee, a Cabin John Middle School student.

The zip line system would use an aluminum ceiling track that spans the length of each stairway. A pulley travels along the track, and connected to the pulley is a harness or sling seat.

An adult or “able bodied” student would be required to assist students into the harness and tighten the safety clips, Evelyn Chung, a parent of one of the students involved, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat. At the bottom of the stairs, the child would be transported into a wheelchair.

The students have filed a patent application for their design and will compete in a state competition. Their work is sponsored by the Sandy Spring Adventure Park.

The students also asked the school board to purchase Med Sleds for each school. The sleds cost about $350 each and can be pulled along any surface, according to the company’s website.

The group urged the school board to purchase the proper equipment to transport students with disabilities and train staff members and students how to use it.

“We have learned that in cases around the country, children with disabilities have been left behind during actual emergencies, because the staff member who was supposed to wait with them panicked and left,” said Aadit Saraogi, a Rocky Hill Middle School student. “No child should ever have that experience.”

Other students involved and who testified to the school board last week were Ellis Chung, Ayush Talukder and Srijani Chakraborty.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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