One year after Newark Public Schools (NPS) signed a historic Settlement Agreement to improve the delivery of special education services, the latest compliance report filed by NPS shows little progress in meeting deadlines in federal law for putting in place Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities.
Newark’s February 2013 compliance report shows NPS is meeting the timeframe for implementing initial IEPs for only 40% of the students identified as in need of special education services. This is, however, an improvement from the 32% compliance rate in July 2012, and from an even lower rate prior to the Settlement going into effect.
The Settlement was entered in M.A. v. Newark Public Schools, a class action lawsuit brought by Education Law Center (ELC), along with co-counsel Gibbons P.C. and Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice, on behalf of Newark students with disabilities. The Settlement was approved by the Federal District Court on January 27, 2012. The Court retains jurisdiction to address problems with compliance in the future, if necessary.
The Settlement is designed to ensure that students with disabilities are provided with special education services in a timely manner and receive “compensatory education” for services they missed in the past. To meet this requirement, 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.
Other NPS compliance activities include:
? NPS continues to regularly send notices of “Child Find” to inform parents what steps to take if they suspect their child has a disability. “Child Find” is NPS’s affirmative obligation to locate and identify students with disabilities and ensure they are provided with an appropriate education.
? NPS still has not put in place the new electronic database required by the Settlement, but has improved the current database, and NPS continues to manually maintain student records.
? NPS has not started providing compensatory services, but has taken steps to identify students eligible for these services.
“Newark has much more work to do to ensure its special education students receive the services they are entitled to by law,” said Ruth Lowenkron, ELC Senior Attorney who specializes in special education law. “We and our community partners will continue to press Newark to pick up the pace of implementing this important agreement.”
ELC is working closely with the Seton Hall Clinic to reach out to parents and get the message out about the Settlement. Parent workshops have been, and continue to be, offered across the district, and FAQs are available for all interested parents. FAQs are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Creole.
The next parent workshop is scheduled for April 10 at the Ironbound Community Corporation. For more information, or to request or host a parent training, contact Kyle Rosenkrans, Esq., at Seton Hall at 973-642-8709.
If you are a parent of an NPS student and have questions about whether the Settlement is being appropriately implemented for your child, you should contact the M.A. Class Action Compliance Officer, Ms. Priscilla Petrosky, at 973-621-2750. If you are unable to resolve your concerns with NPS, please contact ELC at 973-624-1815, ex. 30.
Ruth Deale Lowenkron, Esq.
Education Law Center
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications