Requires IEP Meetings and Extends Deadlines for Claims
On March 3, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law S905/A1281, a bill to protect the rights of students with disabilities to compensatory education arising from COVID-19 school closures. The legislation was passed unanimously in February by the Legislature after months of sustained effort by disability rights advocates, including Education Law Center.
The new legislation (see summary here) requires school districts to hold Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and make determinations about pandemic-related compensatory education due to NJ students with disabilities by no later than December 31, 2022, or sooner if requested by a parent or guardian.
The law anticipates that families and school districts will work cooperatively to resolve compensatory education claims. However, if this does not happen, the law extends the deadline for filing due process hearings to September 1, 2023, on claims dating back to March 18, 2020, the date schools were closed due to the pandemic.
Compensatory education is a judicial remedy under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that students receive make-up services when their IEPs are either not implemented or are implemented in a manner that deprives students a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under IDEA. Congress chose not to waive the requirement that students with disabilities receive FAPE during the pandemic.
“This legislation is essential because compensatory education needs resulting from the pandemic have not been routinely or systematically addressed,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “Both families and school districts will benefit from allowing these claims to be addressed and, hopefully, resolved without resort to litigation.”
The effort to pass this bill was spearheaded by Rutgers law professor Jennifer Rosen Valverde and several of her law students, who worked closely with ELC and SPAN Parent Advocacy Network to activate disability advocates and school groups. The legislation is the first of its kind in the nation and should serve as a model for other states.
In June 2021, Governor Murphy signed prior pandemic relief legislation, known as S3434, to extend eligibility for students aging out of special education in June 2021, 2022, and 2023, and afford them the possibility of an additional year of special education and related services. The Legislature determined in S905/A1281 that its provisions do not apply to aging out students covered by S3434.
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