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Contact: Pat McConahay, Communications Director
Disability Rights California
(Sacramento, CA – September 20, 2016) Army veteran Charles Guerra has trouble getting to and from his college classes and other places on campus due to his mobility disability. He relied on a campus shuttle service until the school and district terminated it earlier this year. Officials refused to provide an alternative.
“Without the shuttle, I fell and injured myself trying to get to class,” Guerra said. “This has made it difficult for me to pursue my education, which means so much to me.”
Disability Rights California (DRC) filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Los Angeles (see http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/advocacy/GuerraChrystalBontrager-v-WestLACollageAndLACommunityCollegeDistrict/CivilRightsComplaint2016Sept09.pdf and http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/advocacy/GuerraChrystalBontrager-v-WestLACollageAndLACommunityCollegeDistrict/Plaintiffs'MemorandumOfPointsAndAuthoriesInSupportOfMotionForPreliminaryInjunction.pdf) against West Los Angeles College and the Los Angeles Community College District for discriminating against students with disabilities by failing to provide on-campus transportation necessary to navigate the campus, which is built on a hillside. In addition to Guerra, two other students – Chrystal (she uses one name) and Karlton Bontrager – are also plaintiffs in the suit. The lawsuit seeks to restore the shuttle service or provide other transportation so the plaintiffs can attend classes and other activities like everyone else.
Due to the problems the students are experiencing, they filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. The motion asks the court to order the college and district to provide transportation while the lawsuit is pending. “Educational institutions should be fully accessible and inclusive to all students,” said DRC Attorney Autumn Elliott. “A shuttle service isn’t merely a convenience so students with disabilities can get somewhere more quickly. It can make the difference between getting an education or not.”
According to the suit, West Los Angeles College, a community college in Culver City, is located on a hill. The campus has uneven terrain – including many inclines and declines – which make it difficult for people with disabilities to get around campus. The shuttle service, which gave them priority, allowed them to safely reach all areas of the campus. When it was terminated in February, students were told to contact campus security and request a golf cart. A month later, that service was stopped, although the vehicle formerly used for the Campus Shuttle service is still used to provide transportation to visitors during certain events.
Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state anti-discrimination laws, public entities like school districts must provide people with disabilities meaningful access to their programs and services, and on-campus transportation is one method of ensuring that access. Even the California Community College’s Chancellor’s office has guidelines for providing such assistance.
The college and district claimed that since there were no court decisions requiring schools to provide ADA shuttle service, they didn’t have to. As a remedy for Mr. Bontrager’s situation, the college recommended he ask his professor for permission to leave class early or arrive late so he has more time to get to class. “Reducing his class time just adds insult to injury because it hurts his ability to successfully complete his education,” said DRC attorney Sri Panchalam.
Disability Rights California is a non-profit organization created by the governor in 1978 to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Check out our website (www.disabilityrightsca.org), Facebook and twitter @DisabilityCA.