In February 2014, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) was ordered to address longstanding claims that it violated the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) by failing to ensure that more students with disabilities are educated in general education classrooms.
The negotiated settlement brought to a close a lawsuit initiated in 2004 by Disability Rights New Jersey, the Education Law Center, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, and the Arc of New Jersey, which claimed that too many students with disabilities were inappropriately and unnecessarily sent out of district and denied the in-class aids, services, and accommodations they needed to learn in the general education classroom.
The settlement requires:
- A needs assessment to be completed by the 75+ school districts with the worst track record of 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 training and technical assistance.
- Training of state complaint investigators.
- Specially designated state and local inclusion facilitators.
- Annual compliance monitoring.
- Parental input regarding district failures to include students with disabilities appropriately.
- Oversight by a stakeholder committee comprised of disability advocates.
The Settlement Agreement requires the NJDOE to work directly with 75 named school districts selected by NJDOE as a representative sample of New Jersey’s districts based on placement patterns in three different areas: districts with low percentages of students age 6-21 placed in general education classes with non-disabled peers; districts with high percentages of students age 3-5 placed in disability-only preschools; and districts that place minority students in self-contained settings at higher rates than their white peers. Together, the designated districts educate about a quarter of the state’s children.
The agreement also requires the NJDOE to conduct a needs assessment of the designated school districts; conduct site visits, interviews, and classroom observations; provide training and support to district personnel on inclusive practices; provide an annual webinar; monitor certain districts for compliance yearly; and allow oversight by a committee made up of disability advocates.
The Settlement Agreement includes a number of safeguards, including parent involvement in each of the designated districts. In addition, a seven-person Stakeholder Committee comprised of disability rights advocates will monitor the statewide implementation of the agreement.
To read the settlement in its entirety, go to http://www.state.nj.us/education/specialed/idea/lre/lawsuit/SettlementAgreement.pdf