Culver City Edition Lead Story West Edition

Disabled students sue West L.A. College

CULVER CITY — A lawsuit has been filed against West Los Angeles College and the Los Angeles Community College District accusing the college and district of discriminating against students with disabilities by failing to provide on-campus transportation necessary to navigate the campus.

Army veteran Charles Guerra, one of three plaintiffs in the suit, said he has trouble getting to and from his college classes and other places on campus due to his disability. He relied on a campus shuttle service until the college terminated it earlier this year. Officials refused to provide an alternative.

“Without the shuttle, I fell and injured myself trying to get to class,” Guerra said. “This has made it difficult for me to pursue my education, which means so much to me.”

Disability Rights California filed the suit in Federal District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of Guerra and two other students — Chrystal (who goes by only one name) and Karlton Bontrager.

The lawsuit seeks to restore the shuttle service or provide other transportation so the plaintiffs can attend classes and other activities like other students.

In addition to the suit, Disability Rights California filed a motion for a preliminary injunction asking the court to order the college and district to provide transportation while the lawsuit is pending.

“Educational institutions should be fully accessible and inclusive to all students,” attorney Autumn Elliott said. “A shuttle service isn’t merely a convenience so students with disabilities can get somewhere more quickly. It can make the difference between getting an education or not.”

According to the suit, the campus has uneven terrain, including many inclines and declines, which make it difficult for people with disabilities to get around campus. The shuttle service, which gave them priority, allowed them to reach all areas of the campus safely.

When it was terminated in February, students were told to contact campus security and request a golf cart. A month later, that service was stopped, although the vehicle formerly used for the campus shuttle service is still used to provide transportation to visitors during certain events.

Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state anti-discrimination laws, public entities like school districts must provide people with disabilities meaningful access to their programs and services, and on-campus transportation is one method of ensuring that access, Elliott said. Even the California Community College’s Chancellor’s office has guidelines for providing such assistance.

The college and district claimed that since there were no court decisions requiring schools to provide shuttle service, they didn’t have to.

As a remedy for Bontrager’s situation, the college recommended he ask his professor for permission to leave class early or arrive late so he had more time to get to class.

“Reducing his class time just adds insult to injury because it hurts his ability to successfully complete his education,” said Sri Panchalam, another attorney for Disability Rights California.

Disability Rights California is a nonprofit organization created by the governor in 1978 to protect the rights of people with disabilities.