Deal puts focus on placing New Jersey’s disables kids in local classrooms
Thousands of special-needs students across New Jersey could get the support they need to attend mainstream classes or return from out-of-district programs to their local schools after a settlement was reached in a seven-year court fight over whether disabled children were unfairly segregated.
The federal suit, filed by an array of advocacy groups, contends that the state violated the rights of disabled children to attend school — to the greatest extent possible — with children who do not have disabilities and in their neighborhood schools. The suit said that because of the state’s failures, countless disabled children were unnecessarily separated from their peers.
About 15 percent of New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school students have special needs, and about 8 percent of the disabled go to out-of-district sites.
The settlement, approved by the state Board of Education on Wednesday, requires that for three years, the state must scrutinize the placement of special-needs children in more than 55 districts that put a disproportionate share of students in restrictive settings. That includes Westwood,Hackensack, Garfield, Passaic, Elmwood Park and Englewood.
If the state finds districts are not doing their utmost to include students in regular classes, school staff must undergo extra training in tailoring lessons to the children and giving them aides and other individualized services.
Ruth Lowenkron, an attorney at the Education Law Center, which was one of the plaintiffs, said the settlement could help many special-needs students in a state that has historically put more of them in separate programs than is typical nationwide. (Brody/The Record)