She wasn’t able to work with the school to change her disabled daughter’s evacuation plan, so Howard County mom Lori Scott turned to legislators in Annapolis.
On Tuesday, Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that requires the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to update their guidelines on evacuating individuals with disabilities from public school buildings.
Cassidy Scott is 15 and requires a wheelchair to get around. Her school evacuation plan stated that if Cassidy was on the second floor of Folly Quarter Middle School during an emergency, she would wait in a stairwell for emergency responders to assist her out of the building.
Lori Scott didn't want her daughter left behind and when she didn't get the answers she wanted from the school system, she turned to the state legislature.
“Everybody should be removed from a burning building or a building that's having an emergency in it at the time of the emergency. Not 15 minutes later, not 30 minutes later not waiting on EMS,” said Scott.
Just a few months after Scott met with legislators, there's now a new law that requires MSDE to update their guidelines to accommodate, safeguard, and evacuate any student, faculty, or visitor with a disability on public school grounds.
“[MSDE] said they had plans available, but for us after reading them and comparing them to other jurisdictions in the country, they're too broad and not specific enough,” said Maryland State Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-Prince George’s County).
Delegate Washington introduced House Bill 1061. It was passed unanimously by the House of Delegates and Maryland Senate during the recent General Assembly session.
“For this issue man, it's just horrible to think that our students are literally left in the stairwell and in the case of a fire or emergency where they can't fend for themselves. This will be change that comprehensively throughout the state,” Washington said.
The law does not explicitly state what that accommodation must be. There are several different evacuation devices that can help get someone down the stairs when an elevator cannot be used. It'll be left to MSDE and county school systems to interpret the law.
“We'll have some variances across the state but the good news is we'll have a device,” Scott said.
In January, EVAC+CHAIR, a company that supplies evacuation chairs contacted ABC2 and offered to donate an evacuation chair to Cassidy. Lori Scott said the school system has not yet installed the chair in the school but she's hopeful that'll change once MSDE updates their guidelines.
The law officially takes effect on July 1, 2017. As written in the bill, the Maryland State Department of Education has until December 1, 2017 to meet with disability advocacy groups and update the emergency planning guidelines. By July 1, 2018, each school system will need to update their local school's emergency plans to comply with the department's guidelines and regulations.