PLEASE EVACUATE CASSIDY!!
By Lori E. Scott RN, BSN, MS
Cassidy Scott ready for school
My daughter Cassidy is a 14 year old student with disabilities who attends a public middle school. Cassidy is dependent on adults for all her activities for daily living, including managing her safety and health planning needs. She uses a wheel chair and has limited verbal skills. She loves to go to school to do "PE". While she is aware of her surroundings, she is extremely frightened by loud noises and chaos. She, like many people with intellectually and developmentally disabilities, is unable to navigate the physical environment in the event of an emergency, such as a fire, tornado or a hurricane nor can she independently comply with a “shelter in place” order while in school. She would not be able to exit the second floor of her middle school on her own and must have immediate assistance to evacuate in order to avoid life threatening injuries from an emergency event.
Her current written emergency plan, prepared by the public school system, is for her to shelter in place on a landing of a stairwell with a paraprofessional or temporary employee. Will they stay in the stairwell with her if smoke starts to fill the stairwell or will they run out of the building as fast as possible and leave Cassidy behind? What about other potential incidents?
The written plan assumes that the Administrator of the school will know Cassidy's location at all times and will give this information to EMS, once they have arrived. I am hoping by now your jaw has dropped and your eyebrows have raised wondering if this really can be true. How can the administrator know her location at all times, particularly if there are other children in school with similar disabilities and plan? As her mother and a health care professional, this is unacceptable. In my opinion, this plan violates Cassidy's rights under ADA and IDEA. She has the right to be immediately evacuated from her school along with her peers in the event of an emergency. She should not be placed in some stairwell landing waiting for first responders to find her as the rest of the students and staff are leaving. Imagine the chaotic scene that would be occurring at this time.
NFPA’s Senior Building Code Specialist Allan Fraser once wrote "no one would ever want to be at the top of a stairwell with no way to get down". What a frightening experience this would be, yet this is the evacuation plan for far too many students with disabilities in this country. Some jurisdictions may do well at preparing an adequate evacuation and emergency plans and include first responders, health services staff, administrators, elected officials, students, and parents. Unfortunately, our jurisdiction is not one of them.
Evacuation and Emergency plans should be prepared by a team that includes the school health services team, parents, and first responders as they are the ones who will have the clinical information about students and can properly develop a viable emergency plan. Coordinated efforts are needed to ensure that our students with disabilities are cared for and evacuated at the time of an emergency. I hope you will be a member of an emergency team that will quickly evacuate Cassidy and her friends in need of assistance in the event of an emergency!
Lori Scott is a master's prepared Registered Nurse working in the field of health care consulting for special needs schools and facilities. She is an advocate for children with special needs and she frequently speaks at national seminars regarding health services and health planning for people with disabilities. She is the mother of three children and has been married for 25 years.
Her daughter Cassidy is a 14 year old with both cerebellar atrophy of unknown origin and epilepsy. She is enrolled in the Undiagnosed Disease Program at the National Institute of Health with the hope of finding a valid diagnosis. Although she has limitations in many areas of her life, she enjoys being with friends and family, likes jokes, loves to attend school and to ride the bus with her peers.