Portland parents have filed a federal lawsuit against Oregon’s largest school district over its school for highly gifted students. Portland Public Schools has scheduled a vote on the ACCESS Academy's future location for Wednesday.
PPS is removing ACCESS Academy from its home in Northeast Portland as part of a broader change from K-8 schools to elementary and middle schools. ACCESS is at the Rose City Park school building, which is slated to become a neighborhood elementary school this fall under the reconfiguration plans for Northeast Portland.
This is Portland Public Schools’ fourth attempt at a plan for ACCESS this school year.
At first, PPS intended to move ACCESS into the Humboldt School building in North Portland, but after pressure from political leaders like Mayor Ted Wheeler and Speaker of the Oregon House Tina Kotek, the district chose to allow the Kairos PDX charter school to remain at Humboldt.
The next plan — and the first proposed by Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero — involved breaking up ACCESS into eight different sites across Portland's east side. That proposal was roundly opposed by ACCESS parents, resulting in Guerrero rescinding it and apologizing to the ACCESS community.
Then, last fall, PPS planned to move ACCESS into a school campus in Southeast Portland, and moving out the Pioneer Special School that was there. Pioneer parents and staff opposed that move, and the district ultimately shelved that plan, as well, citing challenging logistics and the steep costs of such a move.
In recent months, Guerrero has toured numerous school sites, in search of places that could fit the ACCESS Academy.
Officials say ACCESS is too big for any one site, but they want to find a pair of sites that are relatively close together, so that the school might share resources. Guerrero's short list for ACCESS include sharing space at Vestal and Lane middle schools in Southeast Portland, or with Peninsula and Woodlawn schools in North Portland.
But splitting ACCESS in two is among several problems cited in a federal lawsuit filed this week by a group calling itself “Save ACCESS Academy.” The suit invokes the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in arguing PPS is discriminating against and violating the rights of ACCESS students. The suit draws particular attention to students at ACCESS Academy who are considered "twice exceptional": designated both talented and gifted and eligible for special education services.
"PPS’s splitting of ACCESS is to unlawfully treat twice exceptional students unequally under its policy," the legal complaint argues.
Among other remedies, the lawsuit calls for ACCESS to remain as a single school – not split up, as the district is suggesting.