June 27, 2014

DOE Issues Finding on St Johns County School Playgrounds: CalRecycle Publishes Best Practices for Playground Owners

Big news is making its way across the internet to public playground owners.  In the first ADA-complaint of its kind specific to the maintenance of playground surfaces, the U.S. Department of Education has issued findings regarding four playgrounds operated by the St Johns County (Florida) School District.  Meanwhile, the State of California's CalRecycle has published a new document of best practices for the use of recycled tires as playground surfaces.

St Johns County School District

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received a complaint filed against the St Johns County School District alleging discrimination on the basis of disability.  Specifically, the Complainant alleged that the playgrounds at Cunningham Creek Elementary School were not accessible to students with mobility impairments.  The Complainant alleged that the playgrounds at the School were not accessible to her daughter, who was in the first grade at the time the complaint was filed, during the 2012-2013 school year.  The student has Spinal Bifida, and uses a wheelchair.  The Complainant stated that the deficiencies in the playgrounds included a lack of accessible routes to the play areas, lack of accessible play equipment, and a border around the play equipment which prevented the student from entering the playground without assistance.

OCR investigated the complaint and issued a resolution letter to the St Johns County School District in October.  The resolution letter was just made public through the DOE web site.  According to the resolution letter, OCR found that three out of the four playgrounds investigated were not in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  OCR used the "program access" requirement of both regulations to determine the existing playgrounds did not meet the minimum standards "when viewed in their entirety," including compliance with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. 

According to the OCR resolution letter, the playgrounds were surfaced with wood fiber mulch and the playground owner had provided documentation of the accessibility of the surface system.  However, upon visual inspection, OCR reported areas of the ground surface within the play area that were lumped together, uneven, and not smooth for wheelchair access.  Further, OCR found that because the ground surface did not appear to be regularly and frequently maintained, they were not in compliance with the 2010 ADA Standards, technical provision 1008.2.6.1.  

As a result, OCR is requiring the school district to make corrective actions to improve accessibility at the three playgrounds. 

St Johns School District Resolution Letter by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights

Resolution Agreement

CalRecycle Publishes Best Management Practices for the Use of Recycled Tire Rubber Playground Surfaces

After more than a year in development, the State of California's CalRecycle has published a guidance for playground owners interested in using recycled rubber tire for playground surfaces.  The document focuses on the means to ensure the surfaces systems are installed, tested and maintained to comply with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Establishing Best Management Practices for Recycled Tire Rubber Playground Surfaces to Comply with New ADA Accessible Design Requirements