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Wheelchair Ban At High School Track Is Unfair, Wife Says
March 4, 2004

VILONIA, ARKANSAS--The surface of the track at Vilonia High School is like that on many sports tracks across the country -- a layer of smooth latex on an asphalt base.

The one at this small town school will cost about $50,000 to replace.

Vilonia Superintendent Dr. Frank Mitchell decided recently to ban all wheeled vehicles from the track, because allowing them will void the manufacturer's warrantee. No bikes, no trikes, no strollers, and, apparently now, no wheelchairs are allowed.

On Tuesday, Allen and Eva Cooley were told they could no longer bring Allen's motorized wheelchair onto the track.

Eva believes the school is discriminating against her husband, who had a stroke five years ago.

"We've always been able to use that track," she told the Log Cabin Democrat. "A vehicle is not a wheelchair. The handicapped have no choice -- the wheels are their legs."

Eva questioned why her husband's wheelchair is not allowed on the track while the band is allowed to have a four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle pull a trailer on it, and children are allowed to use wheelchairs on the track during Special Olympics practices.

"My words were, the law says if somebody with feet or legs are allowed to use a public facility . . . people that are confined to wheelchairs are allowed to use the facility," Eva said.

She told the paper that she has contacted attorneys to look into her discrimination claims.

Superintendent Mitchell said that the band will no longer be able to use the ATV, and Special Olympics will no longer be able to practice on the track. He added that the school board will be looking into the issue and may decide to close the track to the general public, or to prohibit all wheels except wheelchairs.

"I need to look into this," Mitchell said. "We certainly don't want to be breaking the law."

A representative of the company that installed the track's surface said the three-year warrantee actually expired at least two years ago.

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