On February 2, prominent special education advocates put New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on notice that the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) must step up efforts to ensure school districts provide compensatory education to students with disabilities who have fallen behind since last March when schools were closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to the Governor and Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan, the New Jersey Special Education Practitioners (NJSEP), Education Law Center (ELC), SPAN Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), and Family Voices NJ requested that the NJDOE issue comprehensive guidance to districts on implementing the right of students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to compensatory education, or make-up services, when their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) were not fully implemented in the transition to online instruction and programming.
“We know that, after school buildings were shut last March, there have emerged significant and widespread gaps in providing the services and programs required by the IEPs of students with disabilities across the state,” said Rebecca Spar, a leading expert in special education law and an ELC Trustee. “Despite this crisis, the NJDOE has yet to issue comprehensive guidance defining when and how districts must provide compensatory education. This failure will not only deepen education disparities among students with disabilities, but will also trigger a new wave of complaints in an already overloaded special education dispute process.”
The advocates are calling for Governor Murphy to direct the NJDOE to take the following actions:
- Issue comprehensive guidance to districts and charter schools;
- Require all districts and charter schools to prepare and submit to the NJDOE detailed plans for the delivery of compensatory education services to all eligible students, including identification of the resources needed to implement the plans;
- Monitor and enforce approved district plans;
- Establish an expedited hearing track to resolve disagreements regarding compensatory education; and
- Identify the need, and secure appropriate funding from the Legislature, for the programs, services and staff required to ensure district compliance with the compensatory education mandate in the IDEA.
“Many vulnerable students with disabilities have lost, and continue to lose, essential services during the pandemic,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “The NJDOE has an obligation under IDEA to supervise the delivery of special education services across our state. It is incumbent upon the agency to issue clear guidance on how and when those services will be made up so parents of students with disabilities are not forced to fend for themselves under rules applied differently from one district to the next.”
“SPAN is most concerned about families with the fewest resources whose children have both suffered the most during the pandemic, and who are also the least likely to proactively pursue needed compensatory services,” said Diana MTK Autin, SPAN Executive Director. “Comprehensive guidance to districts – requiring them to raise the issue of the need for compensatory services, monitoring and oversight by the NJ Department of Education, and an expedited hearing track to consider compensatory services – is essential for equity and meeting the needs of our state’s children and youth with disabilities.”
The advocacy groups have given Governor Murphy and the NJDOE a deadline of March 1 to commit to moving forward with the steps outlined in the letter, including issuing guidance by April 1.
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