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STATE INVESTIGATION FINDS PATERSON FAILED TO PROVIDE THERAPY SERVICES TO STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

May 23, 2017

After conducting an investigation requested by Education Law Center, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) concluded that the State-operated Paterson Public Schools failed to provide legally required "related services" to numerous students with disabilities during the 2016-17 school year. Related services include speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy that students with disabilities need to access their education.

ELC filed a complaint requesting a state investigation of this problem in March. The complaint detailed Paterson's widespread failure to provide related services specified in students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEP).

The NJDOE's complaint investigation report substantiates and confirms the issues set forth in ELC's complaint. 

The Report finds that "the district stopped providing related services to numerous students on February 6, 2017," when its contract with an outside provider was terminated. Through a review of student records, the NJDOE also found that "numerous students were missing related services prior to February 6, 2017 and, in some cases, students had no related services documented...for the entire school year." The investigation found that the district is not maintaining proper documentation demonstrating compliance with special education obligations, impeding an accurate accounting of the services provided.

"It is inexcusable that numerous Paterson students throughout the district have been deprived of the therapy services required by their IEPs for three months or more," said Jessica Levin, ELC Staff Attorney. "Provision of related services as specified in students’ IEPs is a clear legal mandate and is essential to ensuring students receive the benefits of their education."

Because Paterson was found to be noncompliant, the NJDOE has imposed a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) on the district. Under the CAP, Paterson must determine the number of therapy services missed by each student during the 2016-17 school year and submit this information to the NJDOE, while also taking steps to ensure appropriate documentation so that the Department can determine the accuracy of Paterson’s information. The CAP also requires the district to provide compensatory services to each student who missed related services sessions. If the compensatory sessions are provided in less than a one-to-one ratio with missed sessions, Paterson must seek parental consent.

"Paterson's systemic failure to deliver required related services must be rectified immediately," said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. "While we appreciate the NJDOE’s efforts in conducting a thorough investigation and ordering corrective action, we are disappointed the NJDOE has not explicitly required action to remedy the serious staffing shortages that caused this problem."

"We expect the NJDOE to ensure that sufficient staff are in place to serve Paterson's students with disabilities going forward," Ms. Athos added.

Since March, ELC has filed several complaints with the NJDOE regarding Paterson's ongoing failure to comply with legal obligations toward students with disabilities throughout the district.  ELC remains committed to closely monitoring Paterson’s special education program to ensure the provision of essential services to Paterson students with disabilities.

 

Related Stories:

ELC TAKES ON SPECIAL EDUCATION CRISIS IN STATE-OPERATED PATERSON DISTRICT

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24