Least Restrictive Environment
Statement on Disability Rights New Jersey et al., Plaintiffs v. New Jersey Department of Education, et al., Civil Action No. 07-2978 approved by the New Jersey State Board of Education on February 12, 2014
What is the Special Education Settlement Agreement which has been mentioned recently?
A lawsuit was initially filed in federal court, District of New Jersey, on June 27, 2007, by the Education Law Center, New Jersey Protection and Advocacy, Inc., the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey, and the ARC of New Jersey, on behalf of children with disabilities in New Jersey Public Schools. The lawsuit was filed against the New Jersey State Board of Education; the New Jersey Department of Education (“NJDOE”); then-Commissioner of Education, Dr. Lucille E. Davy; and the individual members of the State Board of Education seated at the time the lawsuit was filed. The complaint alleged that children with disabilities in New Jersey public schools, ages three to twenty-one, were being denied a free, appropriate, public education (“FAPE”) in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”). Plaintiffs sought an order compelling the defendants to provide a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment to all students enrolled in New Jersey public schools.
Status of the Lawsuit
The lawsuit did not result in a judgment for or against any of the parties. Instead, the parties reached a “settlement agreement” in which the parties agreed to perform specific measures to ensure that students with disabilities are provided with a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment. A copy of the settlement agreement is available here.
What are the terms of the settlement?
United States District Court Judge Mary Little Cooper approved a settlement amongst the parties to the litigation, consisting of the following components:
1. Needs Assessment – From September 2014 to December 31, 2014, the NJDOE will embark upon a needs assessment of the identified school districts.
2. From January 2015 to June 30, 2018, the NJDOE will implement an Annual Training and Assistance Plan based upon the needs identified in the prior Needs Assessment phase regarding the identified school districts.
3. State Inclusion Facilitators – During the three-year training and technical assistance phase, the NJDOE will provide facilitators for “non-compliant” school districts to assist in the training, monitoring and technical assistance phases of the settlement.
4. Annual Webinars – The NJDOE shall create at least one interactive, web-based training session of not less than one (1) hour duration for viewing by educators statewide.
5. Professional Development Evaluation – The NJDOE will administer a survey to each school district participating in the LRE Training and Technical Assistance to determine the need for assistance and training.
6. Annual Compliance Monitoring – In years one and two of the Training and Technical Assistance, the NJDOE will implement compliance monitoring to determine how well the participating districts are implementing LRE.
7. Final Monitoring – In year three of the Training and Technical Assistance, the NJDOE will provide the Stakeholder Committee (see number 10), with a report summarizing the progress of the participating school districts.
8. District LRE Facilitators – “Non-compliant” districts must designate at least one teacher, child study team member or administrator to be a resource person for and provide technical assistance to, other district staff members regarding LRE during the settlement period (3 years). Livingston is not presently a “non-compliant” district.
9. Training of Complaint Investigators – Prior to the commencement of the 2015-2016 school year, the NJDOE will provide one full day of mandatory LRE training to all complaint investigators employed as of the date of the training.
10. Stakeholder Committee – The parties to the litigation have formed a seven-member “Stakeholder Committee” which is a sub-committee of the IDEA-mandated “Stakeholders Group.”
11. Parental Input – When the NJDOE monitors the designated Districts as part of the settlement, it will offer to speak with the District’s special education advisory groups and will offer to talk to a random sample of 20 parents of students who represent a variety of placements, disability categories, racial/ethnic groups and grade levels.
Was Livingston party to the recent special education settlement?
No, Livingston was neither a party to this lawsuit nor to this settlement. The New Jersey Department of Education’s monitoring of Livingston, along with 74 other districts, is included in the settlement because at the time of the settlement, the New Jersey Department of Education identified Livingston as part of the “School-age (6-21) LRE Districts” and “Preschool (3-5) LRE Districts.”
What will Livingston have to do as a result of being included on the list of LRE districts?
The settlement requires that NJDOE complete a needs assessment and provide training programs and monitoring to districts that were identified including Livingston. Livingston will also complete a self-assessment Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Questionnaire that was designed by the New Jersey Office of Special Education Programs (NJOSEP).
Livingston will fully cooperate with NJDOE’s fulfillment of the terms of the agreement and it is well on its way toward completing the required components of the agreement within the designated timelines. In addition to monitoring by the NJDOE as part of the settlement agreement, we will continue to report to the Board of Education and the community on steps taken and progress made to meet the needs of all students, including those with disabilities.
What else is Livingston Public Schools doing to ensure that students with disabilities are receiving a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment?
- Co-planning/Co-teaching Professional Development Series
- Co-teaching in general education settings
- Extracurricular clubs and programs which are inclusive
- Supplementary Aides and Services in general education settings
- Guest speakers to discuss the concepts of acceptance, differences, and challenges with students.
- Social skills and pragmatic language activities with general education student population. For example, Conversation Connection and Conversation Café.
- Integrated Preschool Program for both three and four-year-old students
- Effective School Solutions program at Livingston High School
- Targeted Counseling Program at Heritage Middle School
- Life Skills program at Livingston High School as well as ABA Programs at Burnet Hill Elementary School to facilitate the inclusion of our out-of-district students into in-district programs.
- Professional Development for Instructional Aides and teachers
- Professional Development for Administrators 08/26,27/14
- Differentiated instruction to be expanded
- Construction projects to add classrooms and increase inclusionary opportunities/practices within the district through the Long Range Facilities Plan
- Livingston Public Schools: Strategic Plan for 2011-2016
- Superintendent’s message to staff 08/21/14
- Behavior Specialists to facilitate inclusionary practices
- Counseling at all levels
- Professional development for child study team members and administrative staff on a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), the least restrictive environment (LRE), supplementary aides and services, and best professional practices
- Career Internship Program
What can I do if I have questions about how this pertains to my child?
The Department of Student Services encourages parents/guardians to contact their case manager with questions specific to their own child. Parents/guardians are also welcome to contact Mrs Lisa Capone-Steiger, Assistant Superintendent at (973) 535-8000, x8032 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Results of Compliance Monitoring completed in February 2016 from
the New Jersey Department of Education may be found by clicking here.