Only Slight Improvement in Last Two Years Under Court Settlement
At least 350 Newark schoolchildren did not receive timely evaluations for special education over the last six months, according to a February compliance report filed with the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) and Education Law Center by the State-Operated Newark Public Schools (NPS).
The compliance reports are required every six months pursuant to a settlement of a class action lawsuit in the Federal District Court – M.A. v. Newark Public Schools – entered into three years ago. The settlement mandates that students with disabilities receive special education services in a prompt and timely manner and designates a Special Education Compliance Officer to monitor district compliance. The settlement directs NPS to complete student evaluations and provide special education services within 90 days of parent authorization.
For the first time in two years, NPS is reporting a slight improvement in the delivery of special education services to students with disabilities. The report also shows NPS continues to lag behind court-ordered deadlines, depriving hundreds of students of timely evaluations and placements for necessary services.
NPS’s February 2015 compliance report claims that 45% of district students are receiving special education services in a timely manner. If verified by the NJDOE, this rate of compliance puts NPS slightly above the 40% rate of compliance achieved in February 2013.NPS’s rate of compliance in its July 2014 report was at 33%, while its rate of compliance in July 2012, July 2013, and February 2014 was stuck at 32%. These extremely low compliance numbers are the result of delays attributable to NPS, such as the unavailability of child study teams, and are not caused by parents.
The verification report of the Compliance Officer, due within 60 days of NPS’s February 17 report, will substantiate whether the improvement claimed by NPS is credible. In the past, the verification rates have fluctuated wildly, from a high of 85% agreement between monitored and reported cases in April 2013, to a low of 17% in March 2014.The last reported verification rate was 31% in September 2014, meaning that the Compliance Officer was able to confirm the accuracy of less than two-thirds of the cases monitored.
In response to this continuing failure, the NJDOE has imposed a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) on NPS to address severe deficits in staffing, oversight and management of the district’s special education program. Under pressure from ELC to improve NPS’s dismal compliance rates, the NJDOE’s most recent CAP directs NPS to hire an administrator who will be specifically responsible for overseeing settlement activities and corrective action. NJDOE has also directed NPS to hire a manager to supervise and ensure prompt delivery of special education services to three- and four-year-olds in the district’s numerous Abbott preschools throughout the city.
“We have to see if the Compliance Officer verifies that NPS actually improved delivery of services for the first time in two years,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “Even at that rate, at least 350 students did not receive timely special education services in the last six months as a result of NPS delays. And we are still seeing egregious violations – a parent whose child with a medical diagnosis of autism recently waited nearly one year for completion of district evaluations and receipt of special education services.”
“These children are among the most vulnerable in Newark,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The State-operated district’s failure to deliver services to these children is unacceptable and we will continue to aggressively pursue enforcement of this settlement.”
Parents of NPS students who are seeking special education services and have questions about whether the Settlement is being appropriately implemented for their child should contact the M.A. Class Action Compliance Officer, Ms. Priscilla Petrosky, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Parents who are unable to resolve their concerns with NPS may contact ELC at 973-624-1815, ext. 30.
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