Warren County schools to fix websites after complaint

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County Public Schools must make its websites accessible for people with disabilities, a federal agency says.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights notified Superintendent L. Greg Drescher in a Feb. 23 letter that the agency “received a complaint alleging Warren County Public Schools … discriminates on the basis of disability.” A department spokesman said by email Friday that the office can confirm it opened an investigation into possible disability discrimination related to website access.

“Specifically, the Complainant alleges that certain pages of the Recipient’s website are not accessible to students and adults with disabilities including, but not limited to, vision impairments,” the notification states, listing eight addresses.

The agency didn’t divulge the origin of the complaint. An attorney for the school system stated in a letter to the federal agency that Warren County schools did not receive the complaint directly.

The division plans to spend up to $10,000 from funds leftover from last year to make its websites accessible for people with disabilities.

“Warren County Public Schools is always committed to supporting persons with disabilities whether they are our students or members of the community,” Drescher stated in an email Friday. “We are working to make our websites more easily accessible to individuals with hearing or sight issues.”

The agency enforces a section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal financial assistance. The agency also enforces Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities. As a public entity that receives federal funding, the school division falls under both regulations, the notification states.

The agency requested that the school division provide information by March 10 including its response to the allegation; policies and procedures pertaining to the creation, modification and editing of the system’s website as they relate to accessibility by people with disabilities; the names of the vendors used to design, develop and maintain the content and functionality of the website; the names, titles and contact information of the people most knowledgeable about the accessibility of the website’s content; documents related to efforts to make the website accessible to individuals with disabilities; and copies of any self-studies or monitoring reports on accessibility.

The agency also requested that the division submit copies of any complaints, grievances or comments it received within the last three years pertaining to accessibility of the website and a detailed description of how it resolved the matters.

Bradford King, an attorney with the Richmond firm Sands Anderson PC representing the school division, responded to the notification in a March 8 letter that provided information and data, specifically policies, to the federal agency “without admitting any of the allegations.”

King’s letter goes on to state that the division “has not adopted policies or procedures specific to the creation, modification, and editing of its website, other than by inference in the above cited policies. However, WCPS previously contracted with Weathervane Graphics LLC … to provide its website creation, modification and editing, but has maintained the site with its own personnel.”

“Since the receipt of the Notification, WCPS is working to ensure all WCPS website functions are consistent with the (World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines),” King’s letter states.

“Other than the Complaint identified in the Notification, WCPS has received no complaints, grievances, or comments in the last three years regarding the accessibility of its website to people with disabilities,” King’s letter states.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com