The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has halted the unregulated use of the internet by school districts to deliver essential services to students with disabilities in response to Education Law Center’s legal challenge to that practice. Through broadcast alerts, issued on June 4, 2019, and August 27, 2019, the NJDOE has rescinded the use of the practice known as “telepractice” or “teletherapy.”
Without first adopting administrative rules governing the use of telepractice, the NJDOE had notified school districts in September 2017 that services such as speech and occupational therapy, counseling, and home instruction could be delivered remotely by computer. At least one large school district, Paterson Public Schools, entered into a contract with a private provider to use telepractice as an alternative to direct services by qualified staff in schools and classrooms.
ELC’s lawsuit, filed in the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, challenged the NJDOE’s violation of the State Administrative Procedure Act by implementing telepractice without first adopting regulations. To promote government transparency and to ensure input from affected stakeholders, New Jersey agencies, including the NJDOE, can only authorize new policies and practices by enacting formal regulations. This process requires proper notice, the opportunity for public comment, and agency response to that comment.
“While telepractice may be appropriate in limited circumstances, it is critical to secure input from parents, speech language specialists and others before establishing rules for its use,” said ELC Senior Attorney Elizabeth Athos. “We’re pleased the NJDOE now understands that the regulatory process must be followed before making this significant policy change.”
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