UFT, students, educators sue DOE demanding equity at American Sign Language and English Lower School in Manhattan
New York City students and educators who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, joined by the United Federation of Teachers, have filed a federal lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education for failing to provide an effective emergency notification system at PS 347, the American Sign Language and English Lower School in Manhattan.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Southern District of New York, asserts the DOE has put students and staff who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing at risk by refusing to install an appropriate emergency notification system that would alert deaf members of the school community to fires, active shooter lockdowns, and other emergencies.
While the school now relies on an audio public announcement system, which students and staff who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing cannot understand due to their disability, the lawsuit seeks “an effective accessible emergency notification system, including but not limited to, color-coded visual alarms and smartboards...in all areas of PS 347” to provide proper notice to children and staff who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
PS 347, at 225 E 23rd St., is a PreK-to-8 public school serving both deaf and hearing students from all over New York City. The educators in the lawsuit are members of the staff at PS 347.
According to the lawsuit, the DOE’s refusal to adopt an appropriate alert notification system constitutes a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as city and state anti-discrimination laws.
Examples from the lawsuit:
- Educator Zavier Sabio, who is deaf, was teaching alone in a class when the school announced a lockdown over the PA system. The lockdown was - thankfully - a drill, but Mr. Sabio only learned about the drill when a teacher in a nearby classroom ran into his room to alert him.
- Special education Teacher Rita Fattorusso, who is deaf, was with her class of four-year-olds when a colleague raced into her room to tell her that the school had just called for a lockdown drill.
- Paraprofessional Ana Vianna Balzano, who is deaf, was out on the playground with her Pre-K students when a training drill alarm went off. Ms. Vianna Balzano learned of the drill when a fellow hearing staff member came and told her.
- Deaf or Hard of Hearing students have experienced fear and uncertainty when the current alarm system is activated, and they are unaware of the type of emergency involved and how to respond.
Available technology would enable the school to flash certain colors for emergencies (such as red for fire or blue for intruders) and flash written warnings on smart boards, alerting staff and students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing to the presence and nature of an emergency.
Educators and parents named in the lawsuit are available for interviews through their attorneys:
Keith J. Gross
Junou M. Odige
Office of Robert T. Reilly
New York State United Teachers
800 Troy-Schenectady Road
Latham, NY 12110
Clara R. Smit, Esq.
100 Horizon Center Blvd
Hamilton, NJ 08691
Bruce J. Gitlin, Esq.
Bruce J. Gitlin, P.C.
2095 Broadway, Suite 411
New York, NY 10023
A copy of the federal lawsuit is available to read online.