School District Eyes Resolution Agreement for Website-Accessibility Complaint

Board to discuss civil-rights case on Tuesday
by Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly

Palo Alto school district staff are asking the board to waive their two-meeting rule for approval and enter into a voluntary resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in response to a complaint alleging the district’s website is inaccessible to individuals with disabilities.

The draft resolution agreement, which has been reviewed by district attorneys, would commit Palo Alto Unified to a series of website improvements as well as monitoring, reporting and training requirements to address the alleged civil-rights violations. The board will discuss the resolution agreement at its Tuesday meeting.

The Office for Civil Rights notified the district in late January that it was investigating allegations that certain pages on the district’s recently redesigned website are not accessible to people with vision impairments and other disabilities. The federal complaint was filed by a special-education advocate from Michigan who has filed more than 1,000 similar complaints against school districts across the country.

Staff estimate that bringing the district into compliance will cost an estimated $75,000 (a one-time expense). Ongoing training, monitoring and reporting could cost the district $20,000 annually, according to a staff report.

Marcie Lipsitt, who filed the complaint, said in a previous interview that the same issues she has seen elsewhere are present on Palo Alto Unified’s website, which was redesigned last summer. Several web pages on events, students services, meal services, student connectedness, the superintendent’s page, home page and YouTube page are of concern, according to the Office for Civil Rights’ Jan. 30 notification letter.

The agency has since informed the district of three specific issues on its website, according to a staff report: inconsistent keyboard navigation for menu structure; accessibility/structure of PDFs of an elementary breakfast menu and middle school brunch menu; and a lack of captions on YouTube videos.

The proposed resolution agreement outlines steps the district would have to take to “ensure people with disabilities are able to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same benefits and services within the same time frame as their nondisabled peers, with substantially equivalent ease of use; that they are not excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or otherwise subjected to discrimination” in any of the district’s online programs or services.

If approved, the district will be required to submit by Aug. 31 to the Office for Civil Rights for its review and approval a set of policies and procedures to ensure any new or modified online content is accessible to people with disabilities. Within a month of the agency approving the district’s policies, the district would have to formally adopt and implement them, with 15 additional days to send the agency evidence of this action.

The resolution agreement would also require the district to find an auditor to review its website content and functionality by July 30. The auditor is subject to the Office for Civil Rights’ approval. The ensuing audit also comes with stipulations around reporting detailed documentation and results back to the Office for Civil Rights.

The district would have 18 months to complete a “corrective action plan” to address any accessibility issues identified in the audit.

The agreement would also commit the district to regular website accessibility training for all relevant staff.

The “scope” of the resolution agreement, staff wrote in a report, includes all school websites as well as other platforms “under the control of PAUSD staff.”

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