The U.S. Department of Education announced today that its Office for Civil Rights has entered into a resolution agreement with the East Orange School District in New Jersey to resolve compliance concerns identified by OCR, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, during its investigation of the district’s special education program. The resolution will ensure that special education students in this largely minority school district are not inappropriately separated from their peers during the school day. The agreement’s timing virtually coincides with the 39th anniversary of the passage of Section 504 on Sept. 26, 1973, and illustrates OCR’s continued commitment to ensuring that students with disabilities do not face discrimination at school.
“Whenever possible, students with disabilities should be educated in regular educational programs in our nation’s public schools,” said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights. “I applaud the steps the East Orange School District has agreed to take to address immediate concerns and to put systems in place to help ensure its compliance with Section 504 and Title II. We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the district to better ensure a fair, equal and supportive environment for all students.”
OCR initiated a compliance review in 2011 to assess whether the district discriminated against qualified students with disabilities by inappropriately placing them in self-contained classes instead of regular education classes. Section 504 and Title II require school districts to place disabled students in the regular educational environment unless the district demonstrates that the education of the disabled student in the regular environment cannot be achieved satisfactorily even with the use of supplementary aids and services.
OCR’s investigation revealed that a high number of students with disabilities were placed in the district’s self-contained classrooms. Specifically, during school year 2009-2010, 63 percent of the district’s 1,395 disabled students were in self-contained placements. During school year 2010-2011, 64 percent of the district’s 1,462 disabled students were placed in self-contained placements and 52 percent of its 535 students with learning disabilities were placed in self-contained settings. OCR’s review of special education files revealed that, in many instances, the district did not demonstrate that these students could not be satisfactorily educated in the regular educational environment with the use of supplementary aids and services.
The district worked closely with OCR throughout its investigation. The district has agreed, by entering into a voluntary resolution agreement, to make changes to its procedures and practices related to the placement of disabled students to ensure compliance with Section 504 and Title II. OCR did not make a determination of whether or not the district was in compliance with Section 504 and Title II.
The agreement provides that the district will revise practices and procedures to ensure that the district places disabled students in the regular educational environment, unless the district demonstrates, in writing, that education of the disabled student in the regular educational environment cannot be achieved satisfactorily even with the use of supplementary aids and services. The district will train staff on its new practices and procedures.
It also will review the placement of all disabled students currently in self-contained settings to ensure that these students are in the appropriate educational setting. It also will ensure that, from this point forward, all students initially determined to be in need of special education and/or related aids and services in the future are placed in the regular educational environment unless the district demonstrates, in writing, that the education of the disabled student in the regular educational environment cannot be achieved satisfactorily even with the use of supplementary aids and services. The district will ensure that parents/guardians are advised of their right to request a due process hearing if they disagree with a student’s placement.
The enforcement of Section 504 and Title II of the ADA is a top priority of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.