Special Education

N.J. District Cited for Segregating Students With Disabilities

By Nirvi Shah — October 01, 2012 2 min read
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A federal investigation into whether East Orange, N.J., schools placed students with disabilities in segregated classrooms is now closed with a pledge from the district to change the way it decides where these students attend school.

The U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights said today that it found that during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, more than 60 percent of students with disabilities in East Orange were in self-contained classrooms. Many of the students had been diagnosed as having learning disabilities. The agency found that the district didn’t always consider whether these students could be successful in an integrated classroom with the right supports. The New Jersey Department of Education’s goal is that about 44 percent of students with disabilities spend most of their school days with students who don’t have disabilities.

Too often, the OCR found, students were placed in a particular setting based on statements made by teachers or references to educational testing without explanation of why an integrated setting wouldn’t work.

Reviewing the records of students who were placed in segregated settings, OCR found, for example, that:

  • A 4th grade student was placed in a self-contained setting because her teacher said the student was performing below grade level. The student’s education plan found that curriculum modifications and accommodations were considered but were insufficient to meet the student’s needs. It also didn’t demonstrate any evidence that educators had discussed any other supplementary aids or services that might’ve enabled the student to attend integrated classes.
  • A 1st grader’s education plan indicated his achievement level was average, he had difficulty with reading and writing, and he had a short attention span. But his education plan said that it “appeared” that he might need a different educational setting because the regular setting “was not meeting his needs.” Nothing indicated the district had considered supplementary aids and services so the boy could attend integrated classes.
  • For a 3rd grader who was repeating 3rd grade but performing at the 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-grade level in some subjects, the district considered providing him with supplemental instruction in math and language arts but then rejected that idea because it would require individualized instruction. Nothing was cited to show the student couldn’t receive individualized instruction in the regular classroom.

The OCR investigation began last year to determine whether the 9,500-student district discriminated against students with disabilities by inappropriately placing them in self-contained classes instead of regular education classes. Federal disability and education laws require school districts to place students with disabilities in the regular educational environment unless the district shows that’s impossible even if supplementary aids and services are used.

East Orange will have to revise practices and procedures to see that this happens, and the district said it will train staff on these new policies.

The district also must review the placement of all special education students now in segregated classrooms to be sure they are in the right setting.

And the district will have to show that students in segregated settings can thrive only in those settings. Parents will have to be told of their right to request a due process hearing if they disagree with a student’s placement.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.