CHICAGO — A South Side family is calling on Chicago Public Schools to make its buildings fully accessible and safe for all students after their daughter was injured during an emergency evacuation.
Kateri Hughes is a senior at the Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.
A musical theater major, she suffers from a rare condition that affects her joints and requires her to often use a cane and walker to get around.
During a recent school day, a fire alarm at her school was activated.
Hughes was inside a second-floor classroom and had to use the stairs to evacuate. She says she was nearly trampled by other students. And, once outside, she fell and hit her head.
“Everyone was swarming around me,” she says. “’Oh, my God, are you okay? What happened?’”
Her injuries were minor but her family says it never should’ve happened in the first place.
While her school is considered to be fully accessible, they say there’s not a plan in place to help their daughter and other students with disabilities in emergency situations.
“At a minimum, there should be a person assigned to every person who has a disability,” says her father Jerry Hughes.
Told of what happened, Rachel Weisberg, of Equip for Equality, a Chicago-based non-profit, says, “I’m disappointed that I’m not surprised. We hear stories similar to this all the time.”
She says emergency preparedness is a hot issue around the country and every school should have a plan to place to help students with disabilities.
A CPS spokesman says, the district “makes student safety a priority and has established goals to make schools accessible for all students and staff with disabilities… Both CPS and the Chicago Fire Department regularly review The Chicago High School for the Arts – ChiArts – fire safety protocols, procedures, and evacuation plans, which have been found in compliance.”
She adds, “ChiArts, a charter school, is responsible for their independent emergency readiness plan, which could include evacuation plans if coordinated with the Chicago Fire Department.”