Paralyzed NYC Principal Holed Up in Cramped Room Waiting for Wheelchair Lift

PHOTO: Principal Joann Barbeosch enters the basement of her school, with the help of her husband, in Littleneck, N.Y.
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New York City school principal Joann Barbeosch has been paralyzed since May, but she has been confined to more than her wheelchair for months. The popular administrator has been holed up in a cramped first-floor utility room with no ventilation -- a floor below her students and teachers.

Parents at PS 94 in Queens, N.Y., are up in arms because they say school officials have been dragging their feet to make Barbeosch's workplace accessible to the disabled. All the classrooms and the school's auditorium are up a flight of stairs on the second floor.

They say the disabled principal is now working next to the bathroom and school cafeteria where the smell of French fries wafts into her makeshift office.

"Before, she was all over the place," said Gia Ann Bonavita, whose two girls go to PS 94 in the borough's Little Neck neighborhood. "Kids would constantly pass her office and go get lollipops.

"Her door was always open and she was in plain sight. She was there and could hear what was going on. Now, this is her only entrance and the boiler room is to the side. She is not able to be as active."

The NYC Department of Education (DOE) has been unable to provide an elevator or wheelchair lift at the K-5 school so that Barbeosch can return to her upstairs office.

DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said in an email that administrators had been working to "secure capital funds" and had informed Barbeosch of the plans "several weeks ago."

"We are making accommodations, which is anticipated to be completed in January," she told ABCNews.com.

Chiara Coletti, chief spokeswoman for the Council of School Superintendents and Administrators, which represents Barbeosch, is aware of the problem.

"We have been in conversations with [Barbeosch] and the DOE and understand they are embarking on construction," Coletti said. "We think they are doing this in good faith."

But parent Bonavita says she's in the dark.

"I have no idea what's going on," she said. "We went to a PTA meeting two weeks ago and she [Barbeosch] filled us in on her status. But I don't know why it's taking so long, whether it's paperwork. Whatever helps she needs, they should give to her.

"It's really sad," added Bonavita, 40, a mother of three who has been active in the PTA. "Let's get the show on the road. With a new core curriculum and so many demands on our kids to succeed, let's give the administration what they need so they can fight for us."

Parent Matt Saliba was also indignant.

Barbeosch's "sense is, they're putting it off and putting it off and hoping the problem will somehow go away," he told the New York Post, which first reported the story.

"She's the captain of the ship that's working out of the boiler room."

One DOE staffer told the Post that Barbeosch had been "pleading with us" for a quick and easy installation of a lift.

"She doesn't complain," the staffer said. "She just makes the best of everything. But this is really getting to her.

"This is her life. Her life is school. Watching kids learn, and just being there."

Barbeosch, 70, told ABCNews.com that she was paralyzed from the waist down form a spinal cord injury, but would not elaborate on her situation at the school because of a DOE policy that prevents employees from speaking publicly.

But she said she had been emotionally touched by so many who are fighting to help her. "Yes, they are a wonderful community," Barbeosch said.

Bonavita said Barbeosch was absent from school "half of last year" and was sorely missed. "We didn't realize how much she played a role in the school and was so present in children's lives," she said.

"Now that she is back, it's tremendous," Bonavita said. "She had a very open-door policy. In my experience, whenever we had an issue, we could always speak to her and surprisingly enough, you never had to make an appointment."

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications.

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