October 6, 2014
Over two and half years after a court-ordered settlement, a July 2014 compliance report again shows almost no progress by Newark Public Schools (NPS) in improving the delivery of services to students with disabilities.
This ongoing failure has prompted the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to impose a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) on NPS to address recurring problems with staffing and oversight of the district’s special education program.
The settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by Education Law Center, with the pro bono assistance of the Gibbons law firm – M.A. v. Newark Public Schools – directs NPS to implement measures to ensure students with disabilities receive special education services in a timely manner and obtain “compensatory education” for services they missed in the past. The settlement requires NPS to put in place a comprehensive special education database, provide staff training, and regularly report on compliance activities. The settlement also includes guidelines for corrective action if warranted, and requires an independent third party to monitor district compliance.
NPS’s July 2014 compliance report shows that only 33% of district students are receiving initial special education services in a timely manner. This represents a mere 1% increase since January 2014, and a decline from the 40% compliance rate in February 2013.
This low compliance rate means hundreds of children in schools across the district are experiencing significant delays in the delivery of needed and essential education services.
The NJDOE CAP, issued in early September, contains specific actions NPS must take in three areas: 1) completing the initial disability evaluation and providing K-12 students with appropriate services within 90 days; 2) completing evaluations and providing services for preschool-aged children within 90 days; and 3) providing central office oversight and accountability for meeting the settlement requirements in schools and preschools.
Most notably, the NJDOE has directed NPS to hire an administrator “whose sole responsibility will be to oversee settlement activities and implement actions steps” identified in the CAP. The 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.
“NPS’s ongoing failure to provide the most basic evaluation and placement services to children with disabilities is very disturbing,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “We are pleased that the NJDOE has put more teeth into its CAP by directing an increase in staff dedicated to solving evaluation and service delays, but more needs to be done.”
ELC has notified NJDOE that the State’s corrective action plan does not go far enough to address the systemic problems with NPS service delivery. Specifically, ELC is asking NJDOE to direct NPS to provide a line item budget for special education services that identifies all child study teams and other essential staff used by the district, with evidence demonstrating that the staff-to-student ratios within the budget are consistent with accepted practice standards in the field. ELC will meet next week with NPS and NJDOE to discuss ELC’s objections.
“NPS has reduced or eliminated staff and other resources for special education in response to recent budget cuts,” said Ms. Athos. “We’re asking NPS to produce a detailed budget so we can determine whether NPS has allocated sufficient resources to deliver effective and timely services.”
Parents of NPS students seeking special education services who experience delays in the completion of evaluations and the implementation of initial IEPs should contact the M.A. Class Action Compliance Officer, Ms. Priscilla Petrosky, at email@example.com. Parents can also contact ELC at 973-624-1815, ext. 30.
Policy and Outreach Director
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