New district websites created following complaint

A nearly nine-month process to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ended on Oct. 31, finalizing Community High School District 128’s now-compliant websites and their communication with the United States of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

On Jan. 3, the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received a complaint claiming that District 128 was discriminating against disabled people. After looking into the issue and investigating further, as is their legal responsibility, the OCR found that several district websites were “inaccessible.” On Jan. 24, the OCR sent a letter about this to the district’s superintendent, Dr. Prentiss Lea.

The district was found to be noncompliant with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as stated in the primary document sent from OCR on Jan. 3. All together, these acts are put in place to prevent discrimination of people with disabilities and also to emphasize equitable opportunities for all individuals, especially students under a public organization, such as Libertyville High School.

If these websites weren’t affiliated with the district, then they would not be held under these acts. Since the district receives financial federal assistance, it was found to be in violation of this law and could be held accountable.

It was made clear in the letter that informed Dr. Lea of the complaint that people with vision and motor disabilities were given an inequitable opportunity to work through multiple websites linked within the district’s websites. Those websites included the District 128 homepage, the LHS and Vernon Hills High School homepages, the website for school report cards (PowerSchool), the digital learning center page, District 128’s Facebook page, the information technology website, as well as videos from school board meetings.

The websites were noncompliant because of a lack of accommodations like those for keyboards, alternatives to graphics that would convey important information, selectable text, closed captions to videos, as well as the utilization of color combinations. According to Ms. Claire DiBella, an LHS student needs specialist, these website flaws were hindering to students who use software applications like Speak-it, Announcify and Readability, which aid students in reading and accessing information on computers. These accommodations can apply to people within Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Coming back to the new school year, students, parents and teachers from Libertyville and Vernon Hills High Schools may have noticed the new district-wide website changes. After the websites were updated, all district-affiliated websites now contain links in the bottom right-hand corner that lead to the District’s Accessibility Policy and a form to submit a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Investigating an allegation in no way implies that OCR has decided its merit. During the investigation, OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the Complaint, the District, and other sources,” the OCR explained in their initial letter to the district.

Later on in the letter, OCR demanded a ten-point list of requirements that the district must send to the OCR within 15 days. Within the time limit, on Feb. 1, the district’s technology director, Mr. Mick Torres, responded with a numbered response list to the demands.

In the response, Mr. Torres explained that the district actually began research and was knowledgeable about the possibility of an ADA violation starting in June of 2016.

“[Mrs.] Mary Todoric and I have already begun taking steps toward completely updating all of our district websites, over a month ahead of this complaint,” stated Mr. Torres in the initial response. He then went on to describe that he and Mrs. Todoric would create a stakeholder committee to research a company that will aid them to be ADA complaint, as their district web developer, Mr. Dan Hernandez, had resigned on Dec. 6, 2016.

The stakeholder team was comprised of about 40 district employees and received a detailed explanation by email on March 15, including a recap of everything that had happened up until that date, goals, expectations and a progressive timeline for action to be taken on this issue. Mr. Torres’s goals for completion of updating the five district websites was initially for Aug. 1, 2017.

On March 23, the stakeholder team addressed three different vendors that were to be decided on to be the company that would aid the website update. On April 12, after a vote from the District’s Board of Education, Campus Suite entered a three-year contract with District 128. Campus Suite was chosen because they would help obtain and maintain compliance with the ADA after their initial overhaul that happened throughout this year.

The district agreed to fix the problem described in the complaint because there was no intention present from the district to create websites that would infringe upon the Rehabilitation Act and ADA; the resolution agreement states that the district agreed to take action voluntarily, without having any legal action necessary. Due to the district’s agreeance, the OCR didn’t see a need to investigate further or file a lawsuit.

Campus Suite’s compliance with the ADA and Rehabilitation Acts have been guided by the “W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG),” as stated on the District 128 website. Compliance or noncompliance is measured in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which include information that is perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

Furthermore, the agreement explicitly states that necessary accessibility training for appropriate personnel has to be complete and documented, including assurances that they have received correct training. Libertyville has been implementing this is by teacher, voluntarily.

This means that if a teacher wanted to have their class website linked from the LHS homepage, they have to go through training to ensure that their website is compliant as well as to verify they know how to remain compliant. The new websites have led many teachers to start using applications like Google Classroom as well as a Google Sites.

Some teachers also provided links to students at the beginning of the year and requested all of the students bookmark these websites for easy access, something that is relatively new and becoming more popular at LHS this year.

On Oct. 31, the District received confirmation from the Office for Civil Rights with their acceptance of the district’s website changes and notification of the closure of the complaint because of their compliance and fulfillment of the agreement demands from the OCR.