Evacuating disabled students in Maryland
BALTIMORE, Md. - The emergency evacuation plan for 14-year-old Cassidy Scott is to wait in the upstairs stairwell until emergency responders arrive. Scott is physically and intellectually disabled. She uses a wheelchair, has limited verbal skills, and would require assistance in the event of an emergency.
Lori Scott, Cassidy’s mother, requested a personalized evacuation plan from Folly Quarter Middle School in Howard County to understand the emergency protocols in place for her daughter. Scott was outraged with the plan in place, but the school system said they worked on the policy with the fire department to ensure they’re in compliance with national standards.
The Howard County Public School System policy to seek an area of refuge and wait for EMS is not uncommon in the state. And there are no state requirements for students with disabilities to be evacuated using an evacuation chair.
According to the Maryland State Department of Education:
"There is a requirement that systems have evacuation plans for students with disabilities, and there is some state guidance on it, but there is no state sign-off on local plans at this point.
Our Division of Student, Community, and School Services visits local school systems every five years to provide professional development. During those visits, they discuss the plans and may offer suggestions."
ABC2 reached out to the individual school systems and here’s how they responded:
Anne Arundel County:
Anne Arundel County Public Schools have emergency evacuation devices located in nearly every multi-level school building.
Baltimore City Public Schools do not use evacuation chairs. Instead, in an emergency, the fire department is informed of the location of the disabled person needing assistance. Staff are instructed to take wheel chair and/or non-mobile persons to a safe area and identify the location to fire officials responding to the scene. Firefighters will assist them in leaving the building.
There are evacuation chairs throughout Baltimore County Public Schools. According to a spokesperson, “Schools know they can purchase them or work with our health services office to acquire them. The schools that need them have them … all our schools do fire and evacuation drills and those that have the chairs use them for the students and staff who need that assistance during those drills.”
Carroll County Public Schools do not currently have evacuation chairs but the school system is looking into purchasing them. Students or staff who require assistance during an emergency will have a plan in place for evacuating the building.
Cecil County does not use evacuation chairs. They follow state fire marshal’s office recommendations and are in compliance.
Evacuation chairs are used in Frederick County. Currently, there are 25 of them. According to a school system spokesperson, they determined that any two story school building needed an evacuation chair. “We fund the chairs through our normal facilities budget lines (from the same funding lines as school furniture and also safety operations). We consult with county fire and safety officials, but our use of evacuations chairs is not guided by any outside recommendations.”
Harford County Public Schools does not use evacuation chairs. They have "designated areas of refuge," identified. According to a spokesperson, “students with disabilities would congregate in these areas and be assisted out of the buildings. This is part of each school's evacuation plan. The ADA regulations allow this as an alternative to evacuation chairs, which are not used in any of our buildings.”
No Howard County public schools have evacuation chairs. There is a plan for every student and adult within the school emergency operation plans. Students and staff move to a safe, protected area of refuge only until trained personnel are available to evacuate them.
Montgomery County Public School System does not use evacuation chairs.
Prince George’s County:
Prince George’s County Public Schools use evacuation chairs.
Talbot County Public Schools currently utilize evacuation chairs at two of their schools. According to a spokesperson, “students that require the use of this instrument have emergency plans in place that are practice with the help of occupational therapists and TCPS staff, in order to accomplish evacuations safely.”