Those of us in New Jersey who champion the rights of students with disabilities to be educated inclusively have new legal findings and research material to support our work and vision. The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) White Paper entitled Toward Ending the Segregation of Students with Disabilities in New Jersey is based on the research and conclusions of the plaintiff’s experts in the class action suit filed by advocacy groups against the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) in 2007.
A coalition of parents of children with disabilities joined forces with New Jersey’s Educational Law Center, Disability Rights New Jersey, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and the ARC of New Jersey to bring the state to legal task for failing to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment in violation of federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
On February 19, 2014, the plaintiffs reached a settlement agreement with the NJDOE that has the potential to positively affect the more than 200,000 students receiving special education services in New Jersey. The settlement includes the following:
• A needs assessment to be completed by the 75+ school districts with the worst track record in inclusion
• district site visits by the Department of Education, including classroom observations and staff interviews;
• extensive training and technical assistance for district staff, and regular assessment of the trainings and technical assistance;
• training of state complaint investigators;
• specially designated state and local inclusion facilitators;
• annual compliance monitoring;
• parental input regarding district failures to appropriately include students with disabilities; and
• oversight by a stakeholder committee comprised of disability advocates, including NJCIE’s Paula Lieb.
NJCIE’s CEO Emeritus and Senior Consultant Paula Lieb was among those who assisted expert authors Drs. Lou Brown, Jim Conroy and Steve Devlin with recommendations and final touches of the document. You can access the LRE White Paper on the NJCIE website Resources section at this link. Inclusion White Paper The settlement can be found at http://www.state.nj.us/education/specialed/idea/lre/lawsuit/SettlementAgreement.pdf NJCIE is excited that the positive steps laid forth in the settlement will have a significant impact on moving New Jersey forward with LRE.