The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities reports that a Federal District judge refused to dismiss a case filed by the Education Law Center, the Arc of New Jersey, the Statewide Parents Advocacy Network, et. al. against the NJ Department of Education. The suit alleges that the DOE has failed to implement broad systemic reforms to address the high rates of segregation of students with disabilities, often placing them in either disabled-only classrooms or out-of-district placements, i.e., private or county schools for students with disabilities.
Nationally, 3% of students with disabilities are segregated. New Jersey segregates 9% of these kids.
Part of the lawsuit addresses the IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which mandates that children with disabilities be placed in the “least restrictive environment.”
As part of the ruling, the judge remarked, “the administrative process is powerless to address Plaintiffs’ claims here, which concern New Jersey’s policies and practices…and…require structural relief.”
A fundamental reason for the sky-high segregation of special needs kids in NJ goes right back to home rule. Let’s say a district wants to create a classroom for kids with hearing impairments, or kids with autism, or kids with behavior problems. No problem if you’re dealing with enough scale to identify a cohort of kids with a specific disability. Big problem if your district is so small that there are only a couple of kids with a particular disability requiring differentiated curricula and instruction. The solution? Send them out of district to one of the many private schools in New Jersey that cater to this population. It’s more expensive and it restricts these kids from participating in their own community, but what’s a state of 603 school districts to do?
There’s a reason why disability law grew directly out the Civil Rights movement. Where’s Pete Seeger when you need him? A chorus of “We Shall Overcome,” anyone?