Since March, Education Law Center has filed three complaints asking the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to investigate the failure of the State-operated Paterson Public Schools (Paterson) to comply with special education mandates. ELC’s complaints allege severe, district-wide deficiencies in Paterson’s compliance with its obligations under federal and state law to identify students with disabilities and provide them with necessary programs and services.
The first complaint, submitted March 6 and amended March 15, details a shocking, widespread breakdown in the provision of “related services” specified in students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). These related services include speech, occupational and physical therapy, and counseling. Paterson’s failure to deliver these essential services was sharply exacerbated in early 2017, when the district’s contract with a private vendor was terminated, leaving hundreds, if not thousands, of students without these services as required in their IEPs.
The second complaint, submitted March 20, details the negative effects of staff shortages on the delivery of special education and the timely evaluation of students with disabilities. These shortages have resulted in students attending classes without appropriately certified teachers or necessary classroom and individual aides, not receiving resource services required by their IEPs, and experiencing significant delays in evaluations.
Many of the violations cited in these complaints are simple failures to provide services that the district has already acknowledged a child needs and incorporated in an IEP,” said ELC Staff Attorney Jessica Levin. “This results in setbacks for the students, who require these services in order to access their education.”
The third complaint, submitted April 19, addresses Paterson’s failure to evaluate and provide services to preschool-aged children. Delays in evaluation affect students transitioning from early intervention services to the Abbott preschool program at age 3 and children already attending Abbott preschool. Preschool students, like their older counterparts, are also suffering from Paterson’s failure to provide the special education and related services already contained in their IEPs.
Paterson, in response to the first and second complaints, denies the allegations. The NJDOE’s Office of Special Education has agreed to investigate ELC’s first and second complaints, if they are not quickly resolved at the local level. The ten-day period for local resolution of the first complaint has passed, so the NJDOE investigation of that complaint is underway. ELC is awaiting acknowledgment from the NJDOE regarding its third, most recent complaint.
ELC is seeking immediate relief for Paterson students with disabilities, including completion of outstanding evaluations, reinstatement of all special education and related services required by students’ IEPs, and compensatory education for missed services. The complaints also call for NJDOE support to ensure Paterson has adequate special education staff to avoid continuing violations. If the NJDOE finds Paterson noncompliant with special education law, it will require the district to undertake corrective action.
“It is clear that Paterson’s special education program is in disarray, with significant numbers of students not receiving the evaluations and services required by law that they need to succeed in school,” said ELC Senior Attorney Elizabeth Athos. “We’ve asked the state to undertake a full investigation of these problems and mandate comprehensive solutions to get the district back on track.”
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