PORTLAND, Ore. — The family of a child with disabilities is suing Oregon Senate Republican Leader Jackie Winters and the Salem homeowners’ board on which she serves after it voted to bar the girl’s school from providing her with door-to-door bus service.

A lawsuit filed in May by Erika Hernandez and Paolo Regalado says the restriction violates federal and state fair housing laws. The parents are asking the court to direct the Golf Course Estates Homeowners Association to allow the school bus back into the subdivision and award unspecified damages and legal fees. They also want the HOA to develop a plan to provide equal access for people with disabilities.

The lawsuit names the board and its three members: Winters, Lee Edwards and Lori Gibson. Winters, who was first elected to the state legislature in 1998, is running for re-election this year.

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According to Hernandez and Regalado, their daughter “has developmental disabilities and attends a special needs school.”

The Salem-Keizer School District has an individualized education program for the girl that specifies “due to her disability and the associated concern that she may run into the street, she is to be provided transportation to school in which the school bus picks her up directly in front of her house,” according to the lawsuit. “(Her) medical providers also found that (her) disability required that she be provided an assisted pick-up and drop-off in front of her home.”

The family moved into Golf Course Estates in February 2017, and the school bus ferried the girl without incident until Oct. 24, 2017, when the mother learned that HOA manager Sharon Bowker told the school district to stop sending a bus to the girl’s house, court documents say. Bowker then directed the district to pick the child up on heavily traveled River Road South.

Hernandez sent a letter to the homeowners’ board the next day to explain why her daughter needed the bus to pick her up and drop her off at home, including the girl’s “inability to assess dangers and the chance that she may run into the street,” court records say. She asked the homeowners’ association board to accommodate her daughter’s needs under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Although the board briefly allowed door-to-door service to continue, it voted unanimously in February to prohibit the school district from sending the bus into the subdivision, according to the lawsuit.

The district’s transportation director, Michael Shields, told Hernandez in a letter that it was his understanding that “if mail, garbage, and other services have access to the development, then we should be able to provide service as well.” However, the district ultimately complied with the association’s request. Shields could not immediately be reached for comment this week.

Hernandez attempted to speak directly with Winters about the issue through her Senate office, but never received a response, according to court documents.

Hernandez and Regalado’s suit also alleges the board’s actions violate requirements to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities under Oregon’s own fair housing law, and that board members were negligent in “failing to acquaint themselves and their agents with fair housing laws and the prohibitions against discrimination based on an individual’s disability.”

Another family with a child with disabilities had a similar experience in the subdivision. Christina Pimentel said her son Evan Lewis has autism and since he cannot ensure his own safety walking to and from a bus stop on the busy road, Evan’s individualized education program always called for door-to-door bus service.

The HOA stopped, reinstated and then stopped Evan’s bus service at the same time it was interfering with transportation for Hernandez and Regalado’s daughter, Pimentel said.

“I think somebody just complained because they didn’t want the buses in there and I didn’t understand why,” Pimentel said, noting that garbage trucks and parcel delivery trucks are allowed in the subdivision. Families stood out in a neighborhood with many residents in their mid-50s and older, and Pimentel said people left anonymous notes on her door telling her to “shut my kids up.” Her family moved over the summer after their landlord put the house on the market.

In a July 18 letter to homeowners obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive, the HOA’s lawyer Mark Hoyt says the association’s insurer initially declined to pay for their legal defense. The board is seeking a reversal of that decision, but in the meantime allowed the district to resume bus service.

Hoyt explained that the subdivision’s streets are privately owned and maintained by the association. He could not immediately be reached for comment this week.

“In light of that, the HOA had directed that public school buses should use the school district’s own assigned bus stop on River Road and not enter onto the private streets of the development because of, among other reasons, potential liability issues, pedestrian safety hazards,” Hoyt wrote. “And the daily wear and tear on the streets from the weight and frequency of public school buses, which may result in the streets having to be repaired sooner than planned at the HOA’s expense.”

Tayleranne Gillespie, communications director for Oregon Senate Republicans, wrote in an email this week that the HOA’s insurance company has since agreed to cover legal defense costs, and Winters and other board members hired attorney Hillary Boyd with the Portland firm Davis and Rothwell.

© 2018 The Oregonian
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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