EXCLUSIVE: Up to Code? How ADA compliance throughout the county affects students and their high school experience

Words: Meghan Moore

Photos: Laila Abu-Ghaida

How ADA compliance throughout the county affects students and their high school experience=

For decades, Centennial High School has been a home for students with disabilities. Whether it be blindness, or other physical handicaps, Centennial has provided a place for these students to receive the best education possible.

However, because Centennial was built prior to 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, accommodations have been provided for these students on an as-needed basis, often leading to challenges that have potentially compromised their experience at Centennial.

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990. This civil rights law prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities in all areas of life: employment, housing, transportation, and most importantly, schools. ADA compliance ensures that people with physical disabilities are granted public accommodations. School systems nationwide are expected to comply with the regulations set forth by the ADA. However, what about the schools that were built prior to 1990?

The Howard County Public Schools System has 12 high schools with another to be built in 2022. The oldest high school is Howard High School, which opened in 1952. Centennial began construction in 1976, and was completed and opened in 1977. This was nearly 20 years before ADA became law. Not only are these older schools not built to modern ADA compliance, but they are only required to maintain standards for facilities built before 1990. This means that the standards of these schools don’t correspond with the most current regulations.

Centennial principal Claire Hafets stated that schools do not have to meet current regulations once they meet the standards from the year they were built. In addition, the Office of Civil Rights decides when schools meet those regulations, and that varies throughout different high schools.

“Obviously [compliance] looks a lot different here than it does at other schools that are newer,” Hafets stated.

Hafets explained that little things like doors to classrooms begin to stick and become more difficult to open; however, Pierre van Greunen, HCPSS Safety and Risk Management Officer, explained that oftentimes the county is not aware of these seemingly minor issues until an inspection is completed. Van Greunen went on to explain that once they find complications, they are then repaired.

“Many times we are not aware that they [the doors] are not working properly until an inspection has been done. They are repaired or replaced upon learning of their ineffectiveness…inspections by the State of Maryland Office of Equity Assurance and Compliance for ADA and Title IX occurs every 10-12 years,” he stated.

Hafets said that when the school receives a request for accommodations, it sends the request to the county level where it is processed.

“We complete a form and request the accommodation from the appropriate office– Grounds, Facility, Carpentry, etc.,” she said.

Mark Hanssen, an art teacher at Centennial and parent of a student in a wheelchair, did not share the same opinion as van Greunen in regard to the doors. According to Hanssen, his son has had continuous problems with the doors at Centennial. He mentioned that his son has gone through “numerous” wheelchair wheel replacements due to the doors at Centennial.

“He can’t push hard enough for the door not to hit his chair… but it’s his ‘normal,’” Hanssen said.

There are some advantages to being an older school when it comes to ADA regulations. Centennial has larger classrooms, and wider halls for students to navigate, as well as more space between bookcases in the media center. But since Centennial is overpopulated by about 200 students, that extra space in the halls doesn’t really make a difference. Besides, the negatives of the situation outweigh the positives.

Auditoriums in schools like Marriotts Ridge and River Hill have wheelchair-accessible ramps leading up to the stage. Centennial only has steps. Although it seems that older schools like Centennial are always at a disadvantage when it comes to compliance, van Greunen noted that HCPSS does not determine what one school needs based on what another one has.

“Comparing a school like Centennial to [newer] Marriotts Ridge is not an apples to apples comparison. They are different designs built in different years,” van Greunen continued. “Instead, [HCPSS] determine[s] if Centennial is meeting the needs of the students and staff in that building just as we determine if Marriotts Ridge and every other school is meeting the needs of students and staff.”

Van Greunen believes that the county takes a proactive approach when making accommodations for students by working with staff as well as the families of students who require specific accommodations; he also mentioned that general compliance is not always what works best for students.

“General compliance isn’t always the solution that is required to meet the needs of individual students,” he said. “This is why school staff work alongside maintenance staff and the family to ensure that any additional accommodations above and beyond ADA compliance are met.”

Hanssen’s experience has been different.

“That quote [van Greunen’s response] is not characteristic of my experiences,” Hanssen stated.

Hanssen shared that he has only spoken to someone outside of Centennial about his son’s situation two times. In addition, he felt that his perception of Centennial’s compliance was “skewed” due to issues at Noah’s middle school.

“There were a lot of promises made for the building and for accessibility, and they were just put off until he left; accommodations were never enacted.”

However, Hanssen felt that Hafets is supportive and does what she can for his son.

“Ms. Hafets has been very cooperative… when the problem’s brought up, she sends the stuff out and we’ve had people come in [to fix them],” Hanssen said.

In addition to Hafets, Karol Moore, a physical therapist for HCPSS, who has been with Noah for nearly 10 years, is a big support for the Hanssens.

“She’s been the person that’s the most involved with Noah…[Moore] always comes around to find out what she can do. She’s always been a voice, and advocate for Noah,” Hanssen shared.

Van Greunen mentioned that ADA standards do not necessarily always require the accommodations in each building.


HCPSS has taken a very adamant stance in favor of equity for all students. According to  the HCPSS Strategic Call to Action, as published on the county website, there are four overarching commitments, one of which being “an individualized focus supports every person in reaching milestones for success, [where]…each and every student receives a high-quality education through individualized instruction, challenges, supports and opportunities.”

Van Greunen noted that this is a driving force of their focus.

“We are ensuring that our school buildings meet the needs of every student,” he said.

According to HCPSS Policy 6020: School Planning/School Construction Programs, “The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) employs sustainable design construction that supports educational program needs and creates a safe and nurturing environment for students and staff within allotted budgetary resources.” Essentially, this policy ensures that all schools prove to be a safe and nurturing environment regardless of when they were built.

“It’s true that newer buildings are constructed with many accommodations that were not required in 1977,” van Greunen shared, “we overcome that by working closely with Centennial staff and families to make modifications to the building that allow for a safe and nurturing environment to be created.”

Hanssen once again shared that this was not his experience when dealing with staff at the county level.

“It’s not ideal, it’s not perfect. There have been some improvements made, but for my son, he’s the only manual wheelchair user in the school. His experience… intrinsically is not the same as other students.”

This exclusive piece is featured in the February issue of  The Wingspan click here to see the full issue!

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Healthier Foods Throughout the School

Words: Jonah Drenning

The next time you go to buy a snack or drink at the vending machines after school, you may notice some changes in the selection of snacks. Rather than bags of chips, cookies, and other desserts in the vending machines, there are bags of baked chips, various granola bars, and a lot of empty space. Instead of sodas and soft drinks in the other vending machines, there is only bottled water, conveniently sold right next to drinking fountains.

Despite the efforts at Centennial to make the food choices healthier, the process is not complete. The fries at lunch no longer come with salt, but are still served with every meal. If a student wants unhealthy food, a variety of snacks are still available to choose from at lunch including cookies, pretzels (still covered in salt), and ice cream. The school has removed the unhealthy items from the vending machines, but the exact same kind of food is still served every day during lunch.

Although Centennial has started to change some food options, the school should change the major unhealthy foods at lunch or not change the vending machines at all.

The students who use vending machines most often, athletes, dancers, and actors who stay after school, have some of the healthiest lifestyles in the school already by virtue of their involvement in physical activities. Changing the selection of snacks in the vending machine could be a step in the right direction, but it targets the wrong group of students.

The goal of the administration to improve the health of the food sold around the school is admirable even if the results are less than perfect. The school’s attempt shows that they care about the health of their students and are willing to make changes to make the food healthier. It would be more effective to introduce more healthy alternatives at lunch, when all students eat and many purchase food offered by the school cafeteria and snack bar. One way to improve the health value of the food at lunch is to offer more side dishes that are fruits and vegetables, instead of including French fries with every meal. Adding some treats to the snack bar that are not all full of sugar and empty calories would help to eliminate the problem as well.

The school’s lack of variety and selection in the cafeteria and removal of unhealthy food in the school vending machines gives the majority of the students little change in their diet and affects the groups of students who do not need to worry as much about their health instead of the students eating unhealthy food at lunch and then sitting still for hours afterward during class.

The county has the right attitude in trying to make the food in school healthier, and they can improve their efforts by focusing on the cafeteria next.

From the Print Edition – Eagle Scouts Increasing

Words: Zack Newman

“We all turned around and it looked like he was lying on the ice,” said Gary McNeil, a 48-year-old troop leader of Troop 361 in Columbia, Maryland. “And then he disappeared.”

The Eagle Scout snatched his hockey stick and sprinted across the partially frozen lake. He and his friends had been playing hockey when his friend fell through the ice.

“Because it was thin ice, you want to get down on the ice and crawl across it to distribute the weight across the ice,” Gary McNeil said. “So, I stuck my stick out, came over to the side of the ice and we hauled him up. I saved my friend’s life in high school and it was a direct result of Scouting. There’s no question in my mind.”

While one life was saved because of the unique skills Boy Scouting teaches participants, fewer people each year are getting the opportunity to learn them. However, the percentage of Eagle Scouts has actually doubled.

Since the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) most populous year in 1972, in which the organization accounted for almost 5 million members, membership has declined to almost 3 million active Scouts in 2011, according to the BSA’s national headquarters.

The organization does not break down its annual membership data by region, so it could not report the areas in which membership has declined specifically.

According to the BSA, the amount of Eagle Scouts has increased, from 29,089 in 1972 to 51,473 in 2011.  It is a growth of a one percent to two percent achievement rate.

Despite the membership decline, the objective of Scouting, to improve the lives of men around the globe, remains firmly intact.  The rise of Eagle Scouts verifies the theory that more and more students are finding it worthwhile to pursue Scouting to its summit.

“At a very early age Scouts began to help form my life,” Captain Keith Colburn, of Discovery’s television show Deadliest Catch, said in an email. “Scouts fostered a sense of adventure and independence, as well as self-reliance that gave me tools that in hindsight I never knew would stay with me my whole life. It taught me lifesaving CPR and first aid set an early acquisition of skills that have helped me respond to situations that I never knew I would encounter. Most of all, being a Scout helped mold self- assurance and confidence to help me maintain composure in tense and dangerous situations.”

Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former Boy Scout Hank Aaron says Scouting changed his life for the better.

“Scouting instilled a strong sense of discipline in me, which followed me through the career I had in baseball,” he said via email. “This discipline enabled me to remain focused during very trying times.”

The BSA holds bonding opportunities at the Philmont Scout Ranch for its participants.

In it, partakers backpack or hike a portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico. Scouts trek miles at a time across the rocky and rugged trails at elevations ranging from 6,500-12,441 feet.

“Scouting has helped me grow my relationship with my father,” senior Ryan McNeil, Eagle Scout from Troop 361 in Ellicott City, said. His father, Gary McNeil, was the leader of Ryan’s Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop.

In the summer of 2009, the McNeils traveled with their troop to partake in the Philmont Scout Ranch, but had found each other in disagreement on various topics.

“When we got out there we had to put all of our differences aside, and once we did I learned so much about him and myself,” Ryan McNeil said. “Since then, we have gotten along perfectly fine. I learned that he’ll do anything for anyone before himself.”

The steep terrain and high altitude drove many to consider quitting during the ascent of Mt. Baldy, among other peaks, throughout the trip. However, the perseverance Ryan McNeil learned through Scouting, gained from facing similar difficult situations, allowed him to push through.

“In the middle of [the climb] you want your legs to break in half, you don’t want to continue, Ryan McNeil said. “You just have to keep telling yourself that you need to continue, because you may not be able to do that again. You can’t give up.”

The memories created while at Philmont together will be fond ones for the McNeils.

“The entire trip was an amazing bonding experience,” Ryan McNeil said. “We had a big hug once we crossed back into base camp. We turned to each other and said, ‘We made it together, we did it!’”

Gary McNeil credits the BSA for strengthening his relationship with his sons.

“I have enjoyed every moment, of being able to enjoy Scouting with Ryan and Connor,” he said. “Because the time that we have with our sons and daughters are just so very fleeting, it’s a small piece of time in terms of their entire life. There’s a lifetime of memory from it between me and my sons.”

As an Eagle Scout myself, I wanted to see why the decline occurred, despite the rise in Eagle Scouts. This significant decline in BSA membership has been attributed to a variety of causes, the most notable of which is the progression of the television and other electronic entertainment.

“I think there’s a real concern of where our kids are spending their time and the social pressures of where they are spending their time,” 60-year-old East Texas Council Scout Executive and CEO Mike Ballew said. “In 1972 there was no Internet… and a computer filled a room. You can get an idea of the enormous changes that have occurred.”

According to a medical journal written by Dr. Hillary Burdette and Dr. Robert Whitaker, children spend half as much time outside as they did 20 years ago. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children ages 8-18 spend an average of seven hours in front of a screen throughout the duration of a typical day and the Children and Nature Network found that only six percent of children will venture outside on their own.

“There are so many things [an] individual’s time is being challenged for,” Steve Stone said. The local fire department chief chaplain had been involved with his Scouting for 34 years, including a stint as troop leader of his sons’ troop. He has seen participation drop because of the time commitment required of Boy Scouts.

“Every single group out there wants your time, and they are trying to get your time at even a younger age,” he said.

Renee Fairrer, Public Relations Manager at the National Headquarters of the BSA located in Irving, Texas, argues that the reason behind the decrease is a drop in birth rate.

“There’s no way we can generate more kids in the program if the birth rate is declining,” she said.

While there has been a decrease in birth rate since 1972, according to the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Center for Health Statistics, there has been over half a million less youth membership since 2000 and over 200,000 less since 2005, according to the BSA national headquarters. Also, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that there has been an increase of over 40 million males born since 1980. In 1980, the Census reported a male population of 110,053,000, and in 2009 151,449,000.

One possible reason for the decline is the BSA’s ban of openly homosexual troop leaders and Scouts.

“That is something for the Executive Board to make a decision on,” Fairrer, said. “At this point in time, as I think you have seen all over the news, the program, as it stands, will continue as it stands.”

“Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to achieve the life-changing benefits to youth through Scouting,” the BSA Executive Board said in a press release made public by the organization. “While not all Board members may personally agree with this policy, and may choose a different direction for their own organizations, BSA leadership agrees this is the best policy for the organization and supports it for the BSA.”

Many of the organizations that sponsor troops and allow them to use their space for meetings are churches, and might withdraw their support if the BSA allows gay youth and adults.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that the church would “take the time needed to fully review the language and study the implications of this new proposal.”

The church is the largest chartering organization for the BSA.

The organization announced a potential solution that would allow gay Scouts but not gay leaders. This has drawn criticism from both sides, and the board has agreed to vote on the issue in May 2013.

Another issue that has brought negative attention upon the BSA is a comprehensive list known as the “perversion files.”  The 14,500 page document lists numerous sex abuse allegations against Scout leaders. Over 1,200 people have been named in these files that were a well-kept secret until the Oregon Supreme Court ordered them released to the public following the 2010 Kerry Lewis case, who was abused as a Scout by his scoutmaster. The Los Angeles Times found that many of the volunteers named in the list had never been reported to the authorities and were allowed to continue preying on children in other troops.

In an interview with CNN, BSA president Wayne Brady admitted that the actions of the organization’s actions against those accused of sexual abuse “were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong.”


From the Print Edition – A Memorable Victory

Eagles Basketball Soared into the Regional Semi-Finals

On Tuesday, March 5, 2013, the Centennial Eagles boys’ basketball team traveled to Reservoir to face off against the 18-8 Gators in the 3A East regional semi-finals.

Reservoir beat Centennial both times they met during the regular season, played a very aggressive match and stunned the Eagles with their swift shooting and fast-break layups.

CHS put up a good fight, although they could not extend lead that could change the Gators’ dominating flow. Although Centennial sought a burst of energy in the fourth quarter, there was not enough time for them to pull an upset. The final score was 72-66, Reservoir.

Despite falling to the Gators, five days prior, the Eagles traveled to defeat River Hill for the regional quarterfinal match. They played an outstanding and unforgettable game, defeating the 20-5 Hawks in triple overtime.

The first quarter had ended with the Hawks leading by five. The consistent play also continued throughout the second period. However approaching halftime, the Hawks had settled a lead switching between eight to ten points.

In the third quarter, the Hawks extended their lead. Reaching their highest lead of the game, twelve points, the Eagles knew they needed to make a change. After a crucial timeout, the squad came out with intensive defense and pressure that forced turnovers by the Hawks and allowed the Eagles to convert layups. They weren’t going home without a fight.

With three minutes remaining in the match, the Eagles finally achieved a tie at 48-48, the first time in the entire game that the Hawks weren’t winning. The fans stood on their respective sides, watching the nail biting final moments unravel. With the final minute running down on the clock, the Eagles had to resort to fouling in order to stop time.

With six seconds left on the clock, the Eagles were down by four points. Walter Fletcher drove hard through the lane, and was fouled on his way to the hoop. He was given two free-throws. On the line, he sunk the first one, and a sigh of relieve resonated throughout the Eagles’ fans.

Then, Fletcher missed his second free-throw, the rebound landing in the hands of River Hill. Believing that that error sealed the deal and confirmed the Eagles’ loss, the Hawks’ student section chanted the general cheer to make Centennial feel bad: “It’s all over,” “Start the buses,” and the song excerpt, “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”

In retaliation, the Eagles’ fans replied with “It’s not over,” but it was hard for many to believe there was a chance for a comeback with such little time on the clock, and a three point deficit.

Suddenly, the Eagles players on the floor swarmed the River Hill player with possession of the rebound. After getting their hands on the ball, a jump-ball was called. The eyes of every fan in the arena turned to the scoreboard to see which team would have possession. Cheers erupted from the Eagles’ side of the gym when they saw the arrow illuminated, pointing to the Visitor’s side, giving Centennial chance to score.

The Eagles set up an inbounds play that needed to result in a three-pointer to tie the game. With two seconds remaining, senior Omari Ringgold caught the ball outside of the arch, and with two River Hill players guarding him, took one dribble and the crowd watched the game’s most crucial shot fly through the air.

When the ball swished through the basket, chaos erupted. River Hill fans silenced in disbelief, and Eagles fans screaming, high-fiving each other, and jumping in complete awe. The game had been tied with virtually no time remaining in regulation. The Eagles still had a chance to win.

In the first overtime, the game was very back-and-forth. The Eagles would score a field goal, then be returned by a River Hill lay-up or jump-shot. At the end of the five minute period, the score was tied 63-63, and this back-and-forth continued through the second overtime.

In the third overtime, there was finally an awaited three-pointer hit by Centennial’s Ringgold. Although River Hill came back with a layup, they could not compete with the Eagles’ energetic hustle and break-away plays. With 40 seconds remaining, the score was 78-74, Centennial. The Hawks had to succumb to fouling to stop the clock. However, with the converting of their free-throws, the final score was 81-76, Eagles. As Ringgold sunk his final free-throws and ended his night with an outstanding 42 points and confirmed their win, the River Hill student section exited the gym in a herd, disappointed while the Eagles fans stormed the court.