Legal Webinars and Clinics Planned as Legislation Advances
As New Jersey approaches the two-year anniversary of the unprecedented closure of its public schools due to COVID-19, Education Law Center and advocacy partners are launching an extensive campaign to ensure students with disabilities get relief.
ELC is currently partnering with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) and Rutgers Education and Health Law Clinic to host free legal webinars for parents on February 15 and February 16 about pandemic-related compensatory education as part of the “Know Your Rights” series.
In the webinar, experienced panelists, including ELC Trustee Rebecca Spar, Esq., will provide an overview of compensatory education, when and how it can be provided to students with disabilities, as well as when and how to file for a due process hearing to seek relief. The webinar, which will be hosted in English, will have simultaneous Spanish interpretation. Additional information about the webinar is available here.
These webinars are timely: to obtain relief from the onset of the pandemic, parents or caregivers must resolve their COVID-19-related compensatory education claims with their school district or file for a due process hearing by March 18, 2022. If issues are not resolved or filed by this deadline, students will lose at least some of their special education claim and remedy.
Due Process Clinics
Using clinic staff and pro bono volunteers, Rutgers Education and Health Law Clinic will offer due process clinics on February 23, March 1, and March 10 for lower income parents who need support in filing for due process to protect their children’s right to compensatory education. Additional information about the clinics, including links to register, and other facts about compensatory education are available here (English) and here (Spanish).
Legislation to Extend the Deadline
In related efforts, since the fall, ELC has worked with Professor Jennifer Rosen Valverde of Rutgers Law School, SPAN Parent Advocacy Network, and others to obtain a legislative extension of the deadline for filing compensatory education claims until September 1, 2023. Legislation advanced rapidly through committees during the lame duck session, passing successfully through the Senate, but failing to be brought to a vote before the full Assembly on the last day of the session.
Now re-introduced as S905 and A1281, the legislation has again passed through committees, with votes by the full Senate and Assembly possible during upcoming legislative sessions on February 14 and/or February 28. ELC submitted its most recent testimony on the bills to the Senate and Assembly Education Committees.
Legislation is needed because many NJ students have yet to have their pandemic-related compensatory education needs determined. Compensatory education, a judicially created remedy provided to students with disabilities who fail to receive a free, appropriate education, was still required to be provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when schools shut down due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, the NJ Department of Education has provided very limited – and inaccurate – guidance to school districts and has not taken steps to ensure that compensatory education is actually being provided. The Department declined to investigate ELC’s complaint about the policy flaws, contending that its guidance documents “do not preclude any district from fulfilling its obligations to students with disabilities.”
“In the absence of strong state leadership, the proposed legislation – requiring school districts to hold an IEP meeting to address compensatory education by a certain date and extending the statute of limitations for filing claims if agreement is not reached – is essential to ensure compensatory education is delivered,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “These bills have widespread support because they offer much needed breathing room to both families and schools to resolve claims cooperatively and because they prioritize the needs of students.”
Support the Legislative Extension
Support for S905 and A1281, and a request that the bills be posted for vote at the earliest legislative session, can be sent by email to legislative leadership, sponsors, and aides.
“ELC encourages parents to express their support for S905 and A1281 to legislators,” said Ms. Athos. “Yet, because time is running out, to protect their children’s right to a full remedy, parents must also prepare to file for due process by March 18 if legislation has not been enacted and signed by the Governor by that date.”
ELC, aided by the expertise of Ms. Spar, developed and recently updated an FAQ on Compensatory Education in Response to COVID-19. The FAQ provides in-depth explanations of students’ rights to compensatory education and what parents can do to ensure their children receive the services they are legally entitled to. The IOLTA Fund of the Bar of New Jersey helped provide the funding for the FAQ. Also recently updated by Ms. Spar was the ELC publication “Know Your Rights: Services for Students Turning 21 in 2021-22 and 2022-23,” which addresses the pandemic-related extension of eligibility for students aging out of special education, another legislative advocacy effort in which ELC participated.
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