News

NEW JERSEY ISSUES GUIDANCE ON SAFETY GUIDELINES 
FOR THE 2021-22 SCHOOL YEAR 
 

On June 28, 2021, the New Jersey Department of Education and the Department of Health issued “Health and Safety Guidelines for the 2021-22 School Year.” The document replaces the protocols previously issued by the State in Executive Order 175 and the Road Back. While things are still changing, it provides a glimpse of what next year might look like.  

Some highlights of the document are: 

•    Schools MUST open for in-person, full-time instruction in the fall.  Schools should consider maintaining social distancing where possible, but the inability to do so cannot prevent the opening of our schools in-person.  

•    If your child has a special or medical need that requires remote instruction, that would still need to be met. “Long-standing statutory and regulatory procedures for providing accommodations for students with medical conditions including home or out-of-school instruction and special education procedures will remain in place as they were prior to the pandemic.”  See 
https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562021/approved/20210628b.shtml

•    The State acknowledges that not all school-aged children are eligible to be vaccinated.  However, districts are encouraged to promote vaccination for all eligible students and staff. 

•    Will your child be required to wear a mask to school in the fall?  

The Guidelines say that “updated guidance on masking in this setting is expected prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year and will factor into the final recommendations from the State for masking in the fall.”  Masks will be required on all school buses, regardless of vaccination status.  The same day the Guidelines were published, Governor Murphy stated on Twitter, that “absent any change in our situation before the beginning of the school year, masking of our students while in school buildings will NOT be mandatory – unless a school provides masking as a part of its own protocols.” 
https://twitter.com/GovMurphy/status/1409581144753029134.  He also said “any student or educator who feels more comfortable wearing a mask will be allowed to without fear of bullying or intimidation.”  See the Governor’s June 28, 2021 briefing at: 
https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562021/approved/20210628b.shtml

•    Schools should continue to promote hand washing and covering coughs with a tissue if not wearing a mask. 

•    Schools can consider, but are not required, to maintain cohorts, particularly during any period of high community transmission, if vaccine coverage is low, or if the maximal social distancing recommendations cannot be maintained.  

•    Can my child eat lunch at school?  Schools should consider implementing layered prevention strategies for safety, such as considering alternatives to group dining options, avoiding self-serve food options, staggering eating times, and considering alternative settings such as eating in classroom or outdoors. 

•    Was your child freezing in a classroom last January with the windows open?  Hopefully this won’t be happening next year.  While districts should improve airflow when possible, the Guidelines state that schools should not open windows or doors if doing so poses a security risk such as exposure to extreme temperatures, falling, or triggering asthma symptoms.  

•    Will my child be excluded from school if he is exposed to someone with COVID-19?  Maybe.  It depends on his vaccination status, but exposed people who have close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 who are fully vaccinated and have no COVID-19 symptoms do not have to quarantine.  

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com, by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever. 
 




NEW JERSEY LAW ALLOWS FOR ADDITIONAL YEAR OF SERVICES

FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES NEGATIVELY AFFECTED BY PANDEMIC

On June 16, 2021, Governor Murphy signed S-3434 into law. This law recognizes that the pandemic caused significant interruptions in services for students with disabilities and provides for extended eligibility. However, additional services are not guaranteed, as the student’s IEP team must agree that they are necessary. This potential extended eligibility applies to students who turned 21 in the 2020-21 school year and who will turn 21 in the 2021-22 or 2022-23 school years. If your child is within this group and you believe he or she needs additional services, do not accept a diploma. You should also document how the pandemic has affected your child. Did it affect access to transition services? Was virtual instruction not beneficial? Did your child lose skills? If you believe your child needs an additional year of special education services, contact the Child Study Team and ask for an IEP meeting. Be prepared with documentation from service providers who work with your child that support your request for additional services. If the IEP team does not agree to an additional year of service, you can challenge that decision through mediation or a due process hearing, just as any other IEP team decision.

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com, by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.

 



FEDERAL COURT IN NEW MEXICO ORDERS SCHOOL DISTRICT
TO PROVIDE IN-PERSON SMALL GROUP INSTRUCTION
TO CHILD WITH DISABILITES EVEN DURING COVID-19

Is your child with disabilities failing to make progress during remote learning?  If so, you may have a claim for in-person services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).   

A federal court in New Mexico, in Hernandez v. Grisham, available here, has provided emergency relief to a student with disabilities who sought in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic because she was not making progress with remote learning. 

The court found that the parents presented evidence that remote learning resulted in severe learning loss for the student, and this would continue if the district continued to deny in-person services due to the COVID-19 school closures.  The school district acknowledged that it could provide small group instruction to students with disabilities, but argued that it was too dangerous due to the risk of COVID-19 spread.  Ruling in parents’ favor, the court found that the injuries to the student, including severe learning loss, outweighed any possible damage the district could incur if the instruction was provided with proper precautions. 

The court acknowledged the seriousness of  COVID-19.  However, in spite of the ongoing pandemic, the student was still entitled to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) which it explained “could be provided with in person instruction in small groups, with appropriate precautions including social distancing.”  In such circumstances, the educational benefit would “outweigh the relatively low risk of contagion.”  Given the student’s lack of progress under remote instruction, the court saw it was likely that the student’s Individualized Education Plan was not reasonably calculated to ensure she received educational benefits, in violation of IDEA.   

What does this mean for students with disabilities?  Many states still recommend that districts continue to take precautions, including implementing remote and hybrid options.  However, the pandemic does not relieve districts of their FAPE obligations, and therefore, they cannot automatically restrict in person services for students with disabilities if they need such services to make appropriate progress.  

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com, by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.
 



FEDERAL COURT IN NEW YORK HOLDS THAT, EVEN DURING PANDEMIC,
SCHOOL DISTRICT MUST PROVIDE IN-PERSON SERVICES FOR SOME STUDENTS

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that school districts provide the services available in the last agreed-upon Individualized Education Program (IEP) unless the parents have agreed to a change in programming. During the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts have had to resort to remote provision of services. For children with disabilities, for whom remote services are not accessible and cannot provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE), can parents request in-person services? According to Judge Analisa Torres' decision in L.V. v. New York City Department of Education (S.D.N.Y. July 17, 2020), the answer is yes, to the extent the services can be performed safely.

Cookie-cutter remote learning programs have frustrated many parents of children with special needs.  For example, can a small child with multiple disabilities really learn from sitting in front of a tablet or computer all day?  Are parents required to act as their child’s paraprofessional all day?  When a family has two working parents, multiple children to care for, and other household responsibilities, it can be impossible to implement virtual learning successfully.

One court has recognized that such non-individualized remote services may not comply with IDEA’s guarantee of FAPE.

L.V. is a single mother with two children with autism spectrum disorder. At the time of the onset of the pandemic in New York City, one of her children, J., was not receiving consistent services. L.V. sought and received, from the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) a tablet device enabled with its own Wi-Fi hot-spot. The device’s internet connection, however, was not reliable and, at age 5, J. was unable to sit still to use the tablet.

L.V. filed a lawsuit, asking for an order requiring NYCDOE to provide in-person services to J. The school district responded that it would provide all the services to which J. was entitled, but only insofar as that could be done entirely remotely, by using the hot-spot enabled tablet.

The court ruled that J.’s program contemplated in-person services and NYCDOE had not explained how the remote services are a satisfactory substitute. Nor had the school district conducted an evaluation to determine how it could deliver remote services to J. to meet his individual needs. As a result, the court ordered NYCDOE to provide the in-person services in the last agreed-upon program “to the extent that they can be performed safely in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, in compliance with guidance from health authorities.” L.V. had identified service providers willing to deliver in-person services. The court ordered NYCDOE to use those, or similarly qualified, providers. The court also ordered an independent assistive technology evaluation to assess J.’s “individual needs and the software required to deliver his required services remotely, to the extent certain services cannot be provided in-person due to the current pandemic.”

The magistrate judge’s report and recommendation is available here and the district court’s opinion adopting the recommendation is available here.

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com, by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.
 



NEW JERSEY CLARIFIES EXPECTATIONS REGARDING MANDATORY 
FULLTIME REMOTE LEARNING OPTION FOR FALL 2020

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has mandated that school districts provide fulltime, all-remote options for schooling in the Fall of 2020.On Friday, July 24, 2020, NJDOE issued supplementary guidance, summarized below, clarifying expectations for this instruction.

All students are eligible for fulltime remote learning.  You do not have to show that you or your child has an increased risk of illness or meet any kind of criteria to request fulltime remote instruction.  Everyone, including students with disabilities attending in-district schools or in out of district placements, must have access to this option. For students with disabilities, school districts must determine if an IEP meeting or amendment to an IEP is needed for fulltime remote learning.

School districts must clearly define procedures to submit requests related to remote instruction. Every school district must provide clear instructions for requesting fulltime remote learning, including requests to begin the school year remotely and requests to transition from in-person/hybrid services to fulltime remote learning. Districts must limit required documentation to the minimum information needed to ensure proper recordkeeping . Upon satisfaction of these minimum procedures, the district must approve the fulltime remote learning request. 

The fulltime remote learning option must provide the same quality and scope of instruction as students participating in hybrid or in-person instruction. Fulltime remote learning must provide access to standards-based instruction of the same quality and rigor as that afforded all other students of the district. The district must make its best effort to ensure that every student participating in remote learning has access to the required educational technology and the provision of special education and related services to the greatest extent possible. Fulltime remote learning must adhere to length of school day requirements and attendance policies.  

Districts must provide guidance for families seeking to transition between in-person or hybrid services and fulltime remote learning. For families requesting to transition to fulltime remote delivery from in-person or hybrid services, the school district must clearly define any additional services, procedures, or expectations for the transition period. For families seeking to transition out of fulltime remote learning, districts must set forth policies defining (i) how much time a student must spend in fulltime remote learning before being able to transition back to in-person services; (ii) the procedures to follow, including relevant timelines and required documentation; and (iii) the specific student and academic services that will accompany a student’s transition to in-person learning.

NJDOE requires school districts to report data regarding participation in fulltime remote learning. In order for NJDOE to understand the extent and nature of demand for fulltime remote learning in New Jersey, school districts must report data regarding participation in remote learning, including the number of students participating by each of the following subgroups: economically disadvantaged; major racial and ethnic groups; students with disabilities; and English learners.

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com, by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.

 




PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
ISSUES GUIDANCE ON COVID-19 COMPENSATORY EDUCATION

 

On June 30, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Education published guidance (CCS Guidance) on the delivery of compensatory education, necessary under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) due to school closures under COVID-19, to school children with disabilities.   A complete copy of the guidance can be found here.  

Guidance issued by PDE is just that – guidance for Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to consider.  It remains to be seen whether the guidelines proposed will withstand court challenges if the suggestions are not proven consistent with IDEA.  The attorneys at RCGZ have concerns about many aspects of the published CCS guidance.  If you have questions about your child, please contact us so that we may assess your situation individually.

The CCS Guidance defines “COVID-19 Compensatory Services” (CCS) as those determined by an IEP team needed to remedy a student’s skill and/or behavior loss and/or lack of progress that resulted from an LEA’s inability to provide FAPE during the COVID-19 school closure.  The CCS Guidance says “CCS should be considered only after the student receives services to recover the lost skills or behavior or to make progress to the level(s) determined appropriate prior to the school closure.”  As soon as in-person instruction starts, LEAs should resume implementation of a student’s IEP.

Within the first few weeks of in-person instruction, LEAs should:

  • Gather baseline data on each student’s present educational levels; 
  • Compare Fall 2020 baseline data to the 2019-20 progress monitoring data for each student to see if there is regression in skills and/or behavior patterns and/or a lack of progress;
  • Initiate recoupment services for a student if comparison data evidences the student’s regression; and
  • Track the student's progress. 
No later than the end of the third month of the 2020-21 school year, the IEP team must review the progress of any student who received recoupment services.  An LEA does not have to wait three months to determine that there is regression.

If a student is continuing to evidence a loss of skills and/or behaviors and/or failing to make progress due to the LEA’s inability to provide FAPE due to school closures, the IEP team should determine whether and to what extent the student needs CCS.  Eligibility for IEP services should be based upon failure to make progress.  Expected progress must be defined by the IEP goals the student had before the closures.

The CCS Guidance suggests that CCS should be calculated on an individualized basis. If a loss in skills remains after the recoupment period, the IEP team should determine whether and to what extent the student needs CCS. The IEP team should determine the type and amount of CCS and how it will be delivered. LEAs should document the CCS offer on a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP). 

A student who aged out during the 2019-20 school year may also be eligible for CCS. The IEP team should meet to determine whether and to what extent the student needs CCS and how those services should be delivered.

If the school closure delayed an initial evaluation and the IEP team eventually determined the student was eligible, the IEP team should consider the impact of the delay of services on the student’s ability to make meaningful progress and determine whether and to what extent the student needs CCS.

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com, by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.
 


NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ISSUES GUIDANCE FOR PLANNING TO REOPEN SCHOOLS IN SEPTEMBER 2020

On Friday, June 26, 2020 the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) issued more than one hundred pages of guidance to school districts to help them plan to reopen safely in the Fall of 2020, entitled “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education.” 

According to the statement of Commissioner of Education Lamont O. Repollet, absent a shift in public health data, schools will reopen in some capacity for in-person instruction in the Fall of 2020.   To that end, every school district must develop its own plan, following guidance from the state in “The Road Back,” addressing these four areas: (1) Conditions for Learning; (2) Leadership and Planning; (3) Policy and Funding; and (4) Continuity of Learning.  The guidance outlines “anticipated minimum standards” that districts should incorporate into their reopening plans; it also contains suggestions that a school district could follow.  The guidance provides for flexibility, and below are some highlights.

1. Conditions for Learning

  • Schools and districts must allow for social distancing within the classroom to the maximum extent practicable.  This means seating students six feet apart.  When this cannot be achieved, physical barriers can be used, or desks can be turned in the same direction (rather than facing each other), or students can sit at one side of the table, spaced apart.  
  • School staff and visitors will be required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or the individual is under two years of age.  Students are encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained.  
  • In the classroom where social distancing can take place or physical barriers are in place, masks may be removed when students are seated at desks but should be worn when moving about the classroom. 
  • It might be impossible/impracticable to require masks of young children and individuals with disabilities. 
  • School districts must adopt cleaning and disinfecting procedures. School district must follow existing required facilities cleaning practices and procedures. Each school district must develop a procedure manual to establish cleaning/disinfecting schedules, targeted areas to be cleaned, and methods and materials to be used.
  • Use of shared objects should be limited when possible or cleaned between use. 
  • Schools should prepare and maintain hand sanitizing stations in each classroom, at entrances and exits of buildings, near lunchrooms and toilets. Children ages 5 and younger should be supervised when using hand sanitizer. 
  • Schools should increase circulation of outdoor air whenever possible, by opening windows and doors. 
  • Students should wash hands for at least 20 seconds at regular intervals, including before eating, after using the bathroom, and after blowing their nose/coughing/sneezing. 
  • School districts are strongly encouraged to maintain social distancing on school busses.  If it is not feasible or prohibitively costly to maintain social distance, students must wear face coverings. 
  • School districts must adopt best practices for cleaning and disinfecting busses.
  • School districts must adopt a process and location for student and staff health screenings upon entering the building. The policies for screening must provide for visually checking students for symptoms upon arrival and/or confirming with families that students are free of COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Schools may elect to serve meals in classrooms or outside when possible instead of a group dining area. If cafeterias or group dining areas are used, Schools must discontinue family style, self-service, and buffet style meals. Schools must also stagger times to allow for social distancing, and clan and disinfect between groups.  
  • Schools must maintain social distance between groups during recess. If two or more groups are participating in recess at the same time, they should have six feet of open space between them.  Use cones, flags, tape or other signs to create boundaries of at least 6 feet of open space between groups. 
  • Schools must provide reasonable accommodations, such as telework for staff and virtual learning for students, for individuals at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including medically fragile students or those with complex disabilities and staff who are in a high risk category.
2. Leadership and Planning
  • The state expects all school districts to develop reopening plans.   Every school district should establish a Restart Committee that includes district- and school- level administrators, members of the local board of education or charter school board of trustees, the presidents of local education associations, or their designees and content experts, parents, educators and students.
  • School districts should establish school-based Pandemic Response Teams to centralize, expedite, and implement COVID-19 related decision making.  
  • The Restart Committee should work with the Pandemic Response Team to address many issues, including scheduling – unless there is a shift in public health data, District’s reopening plans must account for resuming some amount of in-person instruction. To meet state standards, many school districts will have to operate school buildings at reduced capacity, requiring "hybrid" models in which school districts deliver services both in person and remotely.
  • As districts begin implementing in-person and hybrid learning models, they must also be prepared to shift back to virtual learning models if circumstances change. 
  • School districts should strive to share their plans at least four weeks before the start of the school year so that families can plan child care and work arrangements. 
  • NJDOE recognizes that a one-size-fits-all plan to accommodate hybrid or remote learning is not feasible.  
  • When scheduling, a District should support a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction which allows for contact time between educators and their students, as well as students to engage with peers.  
  • The guidance provides example schedules for hybrid instruction. These include dividing students equally into groups for rotating in-person instruction on different days or alternating weeks. 
  • When students are in school, school districts should identify small groups and keep them together (cohorting) to ensure that student and staff groups are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff (all day for young children, and as much as possible for older children).
3. Policy and Funding
  • The NJDOE recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a variety of fiscal challenges related to the delivery of instruction and related services to students.  The guidance provides several suggestions for funding and saving costs.  In addition, the NJDOE explains that it plans to leverage existing federal and state legislation to provide additional targeted assistance to Districts
4. Continuity in Learning
  • Districts must continue to meet their obligations to students with disabilities to the greatest extent possible.  Specific strategies and considerations for students with disabilities must be critical points of discussion for every return to school scenario. 
  • School districts should communicate with families of students with significant medical risk factors to determine if additional precautions or unique measures are necessary prior to a student’s return to school
  • Each school district should strive to ensure that every student has access to a device and internet connectivity.  Districts should prioritize the provision of technology, or alternatively, in-person instruction, to students that are otherwise without access. 
  • Districts must focus on building staff capacity to deliver highly effective instruction in hybrid environments as well as preparing them to address any learning gaps that might prevent students from meeting grade-level New Jersey Learning Standards. 
The state guidance includes an Appendix B, with links to additional resources for all areas addressed in "The Road Back."

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.
 


NJDOE ADVISES THAT STUDENTS GRADUATING OR AGING OUT IN JUNE 2020 MAY STILL BE ENTITLED TO IDEA COMPENSATORY SERVICES DUE TO COVID-19 CLOSURES

On June 12, 2020, the NJ Department of Education issued a memorandum, "Providing Additional Services for Students with Disabilities Who Will Graduate or Exceed Eligibility for Special Education Services", explaining that students with disabilities who will graduate or exceed eligibility may still be entitled to services due to COVID-19 school closures.  NJDOE advises that “school districts should consider providing additional services to this group of students who would have received certain types of services during their final school year had it not been for COVID-19."

NJDOE strongly encourages IEP teams to meet with these students and their parents/guardians to discuss the need for additional IDEA services beyond June 30, 2020 related to each student’s transition goals.  The NJDOE stated it encourages school districts to coordinate with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS) and the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) in order to supplement services being provided.  

For students who are graduating, school districts must provide written summaries of performance and academic achievement and recommendations to assist in meeting post-secondary goals. Districts may use the summary of performance to determine the nature and extent of services a student may need after graduation.  School districts may also consider providing reevaluations for students so that they may have updated information for post-secondary accommodations or to assist students in accessing services. If a district started a reevaluation prior to the March 18th closure, NJDOE encourages completion of the reevaluation. For students who are aging out of eligibility, school districts should consider the need for compensatory services due to services missed during the period of school building closure.

In either case, NJDOE encourages IEP teams to convene meetings to discuss the services that were not provided to students and determine the need for additional services.  NJDOE encourages school districts to provide to the adult student and/or the student’s parents/guardians a written description of the additional services being offered, based on transition goals, as well as notice of their right to seek compensatory services via a special education due process hearing. NJDOE provides a non-exhaustive list of potential compensatory services in the memorandum.

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.  
 


 

NJDOE RELEASES GUIDANCE ON EXTENDED SCHOOL YEAR

ESY MAY BE PROVIDED IN PERSON

 
NJ Department of Education has issued Guidance on the Delivery of ESY Services to Students with Disabilities - June 2020 that explains that extended school year (ESY) services may be provided in person for summer 2020.  This means that while school districts may choose to continue to hold virtual ESY programs, they do not have to do so.  This may be particularly important for students with special needs who have not been able to benefit from virtual instruction. 

School districts operating in-person ESY programs must comply with the Department of Health’s New Jersey COVID-19 Youth Summer Camp Standards. Even if a school district determines that it cannot conduct its entire ESY program in person and meet NJDOH standards, it may be able to conduct in-person evaluations to determine eligibility for special education, reevaluations, small group interventions and/or related services in person following NJDOH standards while delivering other ESY services remotely

What does this mean?  Some students cannot benefit from virtual instruction and need delivery of service, in all or part, in-person.  If virtual instruction is not working for your child, you can ask the school district to provide in-person services, perhaps at your home, even if the district is otherwise providing only a virtual summer program.

Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba, LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com, by email or at 856.354.0021.  Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.
 



COVID-19 INFORMATION

 

PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ISSUES 
FINAL FAQ’S RELATED TO SPECIALIZED PROGRAMS AND SERVICES
DURING THE 2019-20 SCHOOL YEAR

On May 21, 2020, PDE and the Pennsylvania Department of Health released Final Frequently Asked Questions Related to Specialized Programs and Services During 2019-20, available here. Important highlights are:

  • Whatever format schools use to continue providing education, they must work to meet the needs of all students, with particular attention to free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities and English as a second language (ESL) services for English Learners (EL).
  • IEP teams should work to ensure that students are receiving appropriate services to the greatest extent reasonable and appropriate during the COVID-19 mandatory closure and ensuring alignment with aggressive social distancing guidelines. The mode of delivery might include schoolwork packets, online learning, or some other appropriate learning adapted to the student's needs and individual situation.
  • Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY) providers held to the same responsibility of assessing and documenting student progress every 45 days regarding a return to general education.
  • During the COVID-19 school closures, all schools are expected to offer Planned Instruction for all grade levels as part of their Continuity of Education plans for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year. Planned Instruction is formal teaching and learning similar to that which occurs in a classroom setting. Within this process, teachers use planned courses of instruction of new concepts/skills aligned to grade level standards. 
  • Each school entity must provide written notice to each parent/guardian of a student with an IEP, informing them of the school entity’s plan to ensure the provision of FAPE. School entities must provide special education and the related services in the IEP to the greatest extent possible during this time.
 
Need more information?  Contact the attorneys at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP, www.rcglawoffices.com by email or at 856.354.0021. Our attorneys are working hard to ensure continuity of services and to protect our children now more than ever.

 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY AMENDS REGULATIONS TO 
ALLOW FOR REMOTELY PROVIDED SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES 

On April 3, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Education notified schools and parents of children with disabilities that the State Board of Education adopted temporary regulations to allow delivery of special education and related services by way of telehealth, telemedicine, electronic communications, remote, virtual or other online platforms.   A copy of the notice is provided here.  

 

The modifications, while temporary, may be found at New Jersey Administrative Code 6A:14-1.1, 3.9, and 5.2.  Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, regulations did not permit school districts and educational agencies to provide services remotely.  However, the NJDOE took this step to enhance the possibility that children with disabilities would receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) during the school closures through remote services. 

 

This does not mean that the provision of remote services will constitute FAPE in every case.  School districts and educational agencies are still required to ensure that services are properly individualized and appropriate for children with disabilities.  If a child cannot benefit from remote services, a school district or educational agency may still be required to provide compensatory education. 

 

FEDERAL GUIDANCE ON SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
DURING COVID-19
WHAT DO STATES HAVE TO PROVIDE?
 

On March 12 and 21, 2020, the United States Department of Education issued guidance to provide information about states’ responsibilities to children with special needs during COVID-19.  The documents, entitled “Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak, March 2020” and “Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities” can be found here (March 12 guidance) and here (March 21 guidance).   Important highlights are: 

  • A school district must provide educational opportunities to students with disabilities during school closures if it is providing educational opportunities to the general population during a school closure. However, ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.
  • A school district must ensure that “to the greatest extent possible” each student with a disability is provided the special education and related services identified in her IEP or 504 Plan. 
  • If a child is sick with COVID-19, a school district must provide special education and related services to that child as it would be required to do for children with other medical conditions that require homebound instruction. 
  • An IEP team may provide a “distance learning plan” in a child’s IEP as a contingency plan in the event of a school’s closure due to a COVID-19 outbreak. 
  • If offices of the state lead agency or the early intervention services program are closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, early intervention services do not need to be provided to infants and toddlers with disabilities during that period of time. 
  • If the offices of the state agency remain open, but early intervention services cannot be provided in the home by a provider or to a child who is infected with COVID-19, then the lead agency must still ensure continuity of services.  Ways could be through an alternate location (not the home), by using a different provider, or through alternate means, such as consultative services to the parent. 
  • Federal law allows for flexibility in determining how services are provided to children with disabilities and IEP Teams must consider each child’s individual needs.  The determination of what provides FAPE “may be different during this national emergency.”  Technology may be used to provide FAPE, but it doesn’t have to be.  Where technology itself imposes a barrier to access, other methods might be needed, and educators can be creative in providing that access.  However, ultimately, if a child with a disability is not able to receive FAPE during COVID-19 school closures, compensatory education will be appropriate.
 


FEDERAL COURT VICTORY FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

In a case in which RCGZ is co-counsel with several other law firms, United States District Judge Joel Hillman ruled that parents’ lawsuit against the State of New Jersey claiming that the state routinely violates federal law by denying timely hearings to children with disabilities and their families may proceed. That important decision is available here

Judge Hillman used strong language and explained that time is of the essence for these children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  This is the case ever more so today, as we face a global pandemic.   He said:

The Court issues this Opinion in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Much of New Jersey lies in or near one of our nation’s epicenters of this plague. Our Governor has issued stay-at-home orders and closed the public schools. Parents are struggling to balance the demands of work at home and the education of their children. School administrators and teachers, dedicated to their students and their calling, strive mightily on a daily basis to deliver meaningful content outside their familiar classrooms so that students may continue to progress or at least not regress. We are reminded of how precious time is, and how, once lost, it can never be recovered.
 
And so philosophers, mental health professionals, pundits and politicians alike, all of various stripes, have asked us in this crisis to reflect on what our priorities as individuals, families, and as a society as a whole ought to be. There should be no controversy in this case or otherwise that the education of a child – indeed all children – should be at the top of that list.
 
That is not just the opinion of this Court; it is the will of Congress as reflected in the statutes and federal regulations upon which Plaintiffs base their claims. As set forth above, these Plaintiffs have made out plausible claims that the system for the adjudication of IDEA disputes by the administrative state in New Jersey is profoundly broken and routinely violates the federal laws designed to insure that our most vulnerable children remain the priority we all should agree they are, not only in these times, but at all times.

The attorneys at RCGZ continue to advocate vigorously on behalf of children and their parents. To contact us for more information, email us or call us at 856.354.0021.



COVID-19 AND SPECIAL EDUCATION


What should parents accept and demand at the time of provision of remote educational services during COVID-19?   Read attorney Judith Gran’s comments on what some Pennsylvania school districts are doing in this recent news article published by WHYY-PBS, available here

Attorney Gran warns parents that districts should not be pressuring them to feel that they have to agree to waive their rights under federal law as a condition of getting any services for their children with disabilities.  Districts must make efforts to ensure that children with disabilities receive individualized instruction consistent with federal law’s requirement of a free and appropriate education.   When this is not possible, children may be entitled to compensatory education.
 



PARTNERS PRESENT AT 20TH ANNIVERSARY COPAA CONFERENCE

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) is the only national, independent, nonprofit organization working to protect the legal and civil educational rights of the 6.4 million American children and young adults who have disabilities. Recognized by COPAA as attorneys knowledgeable about many aspects of special education law in the United States, Catherine Reisman and Sarah Zuba were invited to present twice over the course of the organization’s four-day annual conference in early March 2018.

Judith Gran presented her annual year in review of all the important cases in the courts of appeal - a conference favorite.

Catherine and Sarah’s first presentation was a half-day session regarding federal law on how parents of children pursuing civil rights claims against their schools must “exhaust administrative remedies” before they file lawsuits. In other words, parents must be sure to follow all possible procedures in a school, a school district, and within the state where they send a child to school to try to obtain the outcome or services they are seeking. Only after they have followed all of the procedures and still have been unable to obtain the outcome or services they are seeking, can they file a lawsuit. Otherwise, their lawsuit might be dismissed because they did not follow these procedures.

Sarah and Catherine’s second presentation concerned how the families of students with disabilities can bring lawsuits against private schools when those students have their civil rights violated by those private schools. The laws applying to private schools are different than those applying to public school. Therefore, parents of students with disabilities must be aware of the different legal claims they must make concerning discrimination when they sue a private school instead of a public school. 



RCGZ SECURES REIMBURSEMENT OF
$400,000+ PRIVATE SPECIAL EDUCATION EXPENSES

Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba recently secured a victory in a federal appeals court on behalf of its clients.
The clients—parents of autistic twins—argued that the School District of Philadelphia violated federal law by not providing a free appropriate public education to the twins. As a result of the victory, RCG’s clients are entitled to a reimbursement of more than $400,000 for the amount they paid out-of-pocket for private special education services for their children because of the School District of Philadelphia’s failure to provide their children the public education they were legally entitled to.

On February 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (the federal appeals court overseeing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware) in School District of Philadelphia v. Kirsch, et al. affirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of RCG’s clients. The lower federal court had ruled that the School District of Philadelphia violated the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and that the clients were liable for tuition reimbursement under that law because the School District denied a free appropriate public education to the clients’ children by failing to have finalized Individualized Education Programs (“IEPs”) in place for the children prior to them starting school in the School District in the 2013–14 school year. The lower court awarded the family approximately $318,000 in reimbursements for the basic tuition, Extended School Year, and transportation costs for the children to receive a private special education in the 2013–14, 2014–15, 2015–16, and 2016–17 school years.

The Third Circuit not only affirmed the lower federal court’s ruling concerning the approximately $318,000 award, it held that the lower court erred by not granting tuition reimbursement for the twins’ 1:1 aides who worked with the twins in school during the 2013–14, 2014–15, 2015–16, and 2016–17 school years. As a result, the appellate court added $88,000 to the amount the School District of Philadelphia must reimburse the family (for the first three school years above), with an additional amount to be determined by the lower court for the 2016–17 school year.

The decision, Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia v. Kirsch, is available here.



RCGZ FILES FRIEND OF THE COURT BRIEF IN BULLYING CASE

 
On January 22, 2018, Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba filed a “friend of the court” brief in a Pennsylvania appellate court case concerning a fourth grader at the William C. Bryant School in the School District of Philadelphia who was sexually harassed, bullied,and eventually raped by his fellow students because he did not conform to gender stereotypes. The case concerns whether the student and his family can sue the School District of Philadelphia, the student’s principal, and the student’s teacher under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act for allegedly failing to do nothing to prevent this harrassment.

Our brief focuses on the problems that school bullying causes students and their parents. Bullying can negatively impact all students by interfering with their ability to enjoy the benefits of a public education and by detrimentally affecting their physical and mental well-being. Students with disabilities are particularly susceptible to such harm. We filed the brief on behalf of two of our non-profit clients: the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (“COPAA”) and Disability Rights Pennsylvania (“DRP”).

Unfortunately, we at Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba are all too familiar with the evidence from social scientists (which we refer to in our brief) that students who are bullied at school—particularly students with disabilities—are effectively robbed of the benefits of a public education. We filed this brief on behalf of COPAA and DRP to ensure that the Pennsylvania Superior Court is aware of these devastating consequences when it considers the case.


 

 

RCGZ CLIENTS WIN FEDERAL COURT APPEAL
BECAUSE SCHOOL DISTRICT VIOLATED "CHILD FIND" DUTY

 
In Culley v. Cumberland Valley School District, decided November 6, 2017, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania  held that an administrative hearing officer wrongly dismissed the IDEA and Section 504 claims of J.C., a student with Crohn's disease. RCG partner Judith Gran represented the J.C. and his family. The due process complaint asserted that the school district violated its duty under federal law to locate and identify all students with disabilities – known as the “child find” duty. The hearing officer found no "child find" violation under either IDEA or Section 504. He held that J.C. was not eligible under IDEA because, even though J.C. did have a disability, he did not need special education because of that disability. He also held that the school district identified J.C. as 504-eligible in a timely manner. The district court reversed both holdings.

The court held that J.C. was, in fact, eligible for special education. In reaching the opposite conclusion, the hearing officer demanded too much of the parents when he required that they prove that J.C.’s disability alone contributed to his academic struggles. The school district acknowledged that J.C. had a qualifying disability. He had declining academic performance and increasing absences over several years. This supported the independent evaluator’s conclusion that J.C. was IDEA-eligible. Further, because the school’s evaluation denying eligibility was inconsistent and incomplete, the hearing officer erred when he relied upon that document.
 
The court also found that the hearing officer erred when he based part of his denial of eligibility on the alleged “failures of the parents to provide sufficient information to” the school district about J.C.’s disabilities. The court stated, “this is not a duty or burden that is placed on the parents, but should have been on the school district.” The school district’s “child find” duty exists even if a student is passing grade to grade. This is especially true when the student – like J.C. – was barely passing, with a D average. In light of all the information the school district had about J.C.’s disability, it should have evaluated him. The hearing officer improperly shifted the obligation to identify J.C. as an eligible student from the school district to J.C.'s parents.

Therefore, the school district violated its “child find” under both IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Pursuant to the court's decision, J.C. will submit, within 30 days, the family's calculation of compensatory education due to J.C.

 

 

 

LARRY BERGER JOINS REISMAN CAROLLA GRAN & ZUBA

Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP is very pleased to announce that, effective July 1, 2017, Lawrence D. Berger will join the firm in the position "Of Counsel." Larry will continue to focus on the legal rights of people with disabilities, including special education, the Americans with Disabilities Act, higher education, professional licensing as it relates to people with disabilities, testing accommodations for “high stakes” exams including licensing exams, and the right of people with disabilities to live and work in the community.  Previously, and following graduation from law school, Mr. Berger practiced for more than 35 years as a partner in two Philadelphia law firms, specializing in commercial litigation including among other things class actions (both plaintiffs and defendants), antitrust and securities law, contract law, mortgage lending and other secured transactions
You can reach Larry at 856.354.0021, or larry@rcglawoffices.com.
 


 

FEDERAL COURT ORDERS SCHOOL DISTRICT
TO ESTABLISH A $265,160 TRUST
TO FUND COMPENSATORY EDUCATION FOR RCG CLIENT

In the June 12, 2017 decision L.M. & M.M. o/b/o G.M. v. Willingboro Township School District attorney Amy Carolla vindicated in federal court a family’s right to a compensatory education fund of $265,160 because Willingboro School District deprived a young girl with multiple disabilities of three years of appropriate programming.  In a May 2016 opinion, Administrative Law Judge Joseph Martone found that G.M., who was five years old when Willingboro offered its first IEP, had multiple physical disabilities, a genetic deletion, feeding issues, severe speech and developmental delays, sensory integration dysfunction, and other challenges and the school district failed to gather and report information about the student’s performance or progress in any IEPs proposed for kindergarten through second grade. Consequently, Willingboro could not provide for appropriate accommodations, modifications to the curriculum, goals, or progress monitoring, all of which are the heart of an appropriate individual education plan. To rectify the district’s failure to provide an appropriate program, the Administrative Law Judge ordered compensatory education equal to the time period from January 7, 2013, through June 30, 2015. 

District of New Jersey Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez denied the school district's appeal, ruling that the weight of the evidence supported the administrative decision.  Judge Rodriguez also rejected the school district’s attempt to interject new evidence regarding subsequent events that had no bearing on the determination below. Most importantly, Judge Rodriguez quantified the order for compensatory education, directing the school district to place $265,160 in trust for G.M.’s reasonable educational, rehabilitative, therapeutic, or recreational services delivered by a provider of her family’s choice. That remedy represents an hour-for-hour replacement for every hour of education she received under an inappropriate IEP that was not calculated to provide her with educational benefit, following the guidance of M.C. v. Cent. Reg’l Sch. Dist., 81 F.3d 389, 391-92, 396-97 (3rd Cir. 1996), at the rate of $80 per hour.
 


 

RCGZ SECURES VICTORY FOR CLIENTS IN U.S. SUPREME COURT

In S.D. v. Haddon Heights Board of Education, RCG attorneys Judith Gran, Catherine Reisman, and Sarah Zuba convinced the Supreme Court to order the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its previous ruling requiring a young man with chronic illnesses to pursue special education remedies in a state administrative hearing before seeking relief in federal court. S.D. and his parents brought claims for ongoing discrimination against him due to his chronic health conditions. The Court of Appeals demanded that he and his family pursue special education remedies under IDEA even though no one in the family or the school district had ever suggested that he needed special education, and the only potential remedies for the violations were under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. As a result of RCG's advocacy, the Court of Appeals decision is no longer good law. As a result of the May 15, 2017 Supreme Court Order, RCG attorneys will continue to fight for S.D. in the Third Circuit, which now must allow the attorneys to argue regarding reconsideration of its prior decision.

 


SUPREME COURT ISSUES IMPORTANT RULING ON MEANING OF FAPE

     On March 22, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Endrew F. v. Douglas County Sch. Dist. RE-1, its first case in 35 years to discuss the free appropriate public education standard set forth in Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson School District v. Rowley. Endrew F. soundly rejected a school district’s argument that “merely more than de minimis” benefit was enough. To satisfy the FAPE requirement, a school district must offer an IEP reasonably calculated for the child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. IDEA contemplates that the IEP process will be informed not only by the expertise of school officials, but also by the input of the child’s parents or guardians.

     And the IEP must aim for progress. An appropriate IEP requires “careful consideration of the child’s present levels of achievement, disability and potential for growth.” To meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, school districts must faithfully follow the IEP process. School districts cannot treat IEP requirements as a mere procedural checklist. For a child being educated in the same curriculum as peers without disabilities, he or she must receive “instruction reasonably calculated to permit advancement through the general curriculum.” However, mere advancement from grade to grade will not always mean the child is receiving a FAPE.

     For children who are educated in a modified curriculum, but unable to achieve at grade level, the IEPs must be “appropriately ambitious” and include “challenging objectives.” “Barely more than de minimis” progress, the standard formerly applied by some courts in reviewing school district programs, is not enough; in fact, a child receiving a program offering that level of progress “can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.” IDEA requires an education “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child’s circumstances.”
In analyzing whether an IEP meets this standard, courts should show some deference to school personnel. However, deference in this area is based on “the application of expertise and the exercise of judgment.” The nature of the IEP process ensures that parents, as well as school representatives “will fully air their respective opinions on the degree of progress a child’s IEP should pursue.” By the time any dispute reaches a court, school officials should have cogent and responsive explanations, based upon sound educational judgment, for their disagreement with the parents’ proposal for an appropriate amount of progress.

    This case is a victory for students, not only in areas of the country that previously applied the “more than de minimis” standard. The decision reaffirms, in several places, that meaningful parental participation is key to the IEP process. It also indicates that all children, those who can access the same curriculum as their peers without disabilities as well as those who cannot, deserve challenging and ambitious goals.

     RCG partners Judith Gran and Catherine Merino Reisman, along with Caroline Heller, Selene Almazan, Alice K. Nelson, Alexis Casillas, and Ellen Saideman, authored a “friend of the court” brief, available here, for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) and the California Association of Parent Child Advocacy (CAPCA).

 


 

REISMAN CAROLLA GRAN & ZUBA WELCOMES NEW PARTNER SARAH E. ZUBA


Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba LLP is pleased to announce that Sarah E. Zuba became a partner in the Firm effective January 1, 2017. Before joining the Firm, Ms. Zuba worked in the Special Education practice group at Montgomery McCracken and at a business litigation firm in Philadelphia where she developed sophisticated negotiation, counseling, and dispute resolution skills. While studying at The College of New Jersey and after graduating from Yale Law School, Ms. Zuba taught students of all ages in a wide range of classrooms, from students entitled to special education in an urban public school to general education students at an independent day school. For over a decade, Ms. Zuba has served on the board of Community Treatment Solutions, a nonprofit mental and behavioral health provider for at-risk youth and their families. Currently, she is Chair of the CTS Board of Directors. For the past several years, she has presented full-day seminars on right under Section 504 and the ADA at the annual conference of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. Judith, Catherine and Amy are thrilled to welcome Sarah to the partnership.
 




UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ISSUES GUIDANCE ON CIVIL RIGHTS OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

On December 28, 2016, the USDOE Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published documents explaining

civil rights protections afforded to children with disabilities attending public schools:
Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools ,

as well as a Dear Colleague Letter and accompanying Fact Sheet explaining how the use of restraint and

seclusion in schools may discriminate against students with disabilities in violation of Section 504

and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The resource guide attempts to increase understanding of Section 504 for parents and educators. OCR issued the restraint and seclusion guidance because its data indicate that schools subject children with disabilitites to mechanical and physical restraint far more ofen than children without disabilities. 


RCG attorneys Catherine Reisman and Sarah Zuba will be presenting a full-day workshop on Section 504 and the ADA on March 2, 2017 in Dallas, Texas at the annual Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates conference . Hope you can join us there!


 

Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba Attorneys Available to Speak to Your Group

The attorneys of Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba are always available to speak to your group, free of charge, regarding your legal rights in many areas, including special education, civil rights, discrimination claims, the IEP process, Section 504/ADA and the IDEA, and pursuing claims in due process, federal court, and in the Office of Civil Rights.

For more information, contact catherine@rcglawoffices.com, 856.354.0021

 




CATHERINE MERINO REISMAN CO-AUTHORS SUPREME COURT AMICUS BRIEF ON THE LEVEL OF EDUCATIONAL BENEFIT GUARANTEED BY IDEA

In November 2016, Catherine Reisman assisted in writing a "friend of the court" brief in Endrew F. v. Douglas County Sch. Dist. RE-1, a case pending in the Supreme Court. The brief, filed on behalf of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and the California Association of Parent-Child Advocacy, argues that IDEA requires that school districts target all areas of educational need in order to ensure achievement consistent with non-disabled peers, and departures from either the rate of learning on a particular campus, from the overall content expected to be mastered or the focus in general education must be justified by the assessments, data, and planning established by IDEA. A ruling is expected by June 2017.

 

RCG CLIENTS SECURE ORDER REQUIRING TUITION REIMBURSEMENT WITHIN 30 DAYS

In November 2015, clients of RCG attorneys Judith Gran and Catherine Reisman received a decision granting "stay put" funding of a private school placement for twins while the school district and parents had appeals pending in federal court. In June 2016, the federal court entered a judgmentfor the full amount of tuition reimbursement for both children for September 2013 through August 2016. By filing a "motion to stay," the school district requested that the court defer payment of the judgment. The federal district court denied the motion. The school district then requested a stay from the court of appeals. The appellate court denied the request for a stay on December 2, 2016. On December 6, 2016, the district court granted the parents' request for a "stay put" preliminary injunction and ordered the school district to pay to parents, within 30 days, all tuition previously paid to date (including payments made for the 2016-2017 school year). The school district must also continue to pay tuition to the private school when those payments are due, as long as appeals are pending in federal court. The decision is available here.

RCG PARTNER CATHERINE MERINO REISMAN CO-AUTHORS AMICUS BRIEF IN DISCRIMINATION CASE IN SUPREME COURT

On August 29, 2016, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates ("COPAA") and Advocates for Children of New York filed a "friend of the court" brief in  Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools in the United States Supreme Court. Catherine co-authored the brief with fellow COPAA members Alexis Casillas, Ellen Saideman, and Alice Nelson, and COPAA's Legal Director Selene Almazan. The brief  argues that students with Section 504/ADA discrimination claims that exist independent of their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act should be able to go directly to federal court without pursuing administrative remedies under the IDEA. Fry and similar cases require exhaustion even when IDEA procedures cannot resolve the harms at issue or provide meaningful relief. These decisions harm students with disabilities seeking to vindicate their Section 504/ADA rights and are inconsistent with the exhaustion language in the IDEA.


ANOTHER WIN IN NEW JERSEY FOR CLIENTS OF RCG PARTNER AMY CAROLLA

On July 14, 2016, in P.B. & M.B. o/b/o H.B., available here, a deserving family represented by Amy Carolla won a significant victory in New Jersey's Office of Administrative Law. Administrative Law Judge Edward J. Delanoy found that the Washington Township Board of Education failed to provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) to H.B., a child with autism and ADHD, for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years and ordered placement at the Y.A.L.E. School, a private school for students with special education needs. The case took 24 hearing days between November 2013 and June 2016.
 
Some important issues addressed in this case:

•    The student’s case manager directed teachers to fill out ratings scales without parental permission and without sharing the results with parents until due process. The case manager also was not appropriately qualified to administer the ratings scales under the protocols of the scales’ designers. The ALJ found that this procedural violation hindered the parents’ opportunity to participate in the education of their son. Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that the district’s conduct in performing evaluations without parental consent was a significant basis for declaring the IEP invalid.

•    The school district used a computer program with a drop-down menu to select the student’s IEP goals --- which were on grade level even though the student was several years behind.  The ALJ found that the computer-chosen goals for H.B. were not satisfactorily specific, measurable, or individualized to meet his learning requirements.  The district also never provided progress monitoring on academic goals.  This also led to a substantively inappropriate IEP.

•    H.B.’s grades alone, which were modified as permitted by the student’s IEP, were subjective and not sufficient objective proof of progress to sustain the district’s burden of showing the school had provided H.B. with a FAPE. 

•    Commenting on the school district's evidence, the ALJ noted: “While H.B.’s teachers, therapists and social workers were of the opinion that H.B. did receive a FAPE, they are not experts and were not qualified as such. Their opinions can also fairly be assessed through the prism of their circumstances. Obviously, because they are H.B.’s teachers and employees of the district, they have a direct interest in proving that their work was effective in teaching H.B.  They rightly saw H.B. in a most positive light.  It would be unusual for a teacher to agree that he or she did a poor job of educating a student, or that the school’s program was not working.”

 


RCG CLIENTS SECURE SIGNIFICANT VICTORY IN NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

 

On May 26, 2016, ALJ Martone awarded G.M., represented by RCG Partner Amy Carolla,  prospective placement at a private school as well as compensatory education for 2 and 1/2 years of inappropriate services.  In L.M. and M.M. o/b/o G.M. v. Willingboro Twp. Bd. of Educ.Judge Martone found that Willingboro had not offered a free and appropriate public education to G.M. from January to June 2013, as well as the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years. (The record in the case closed in June, 2015, so the decision does not address the 2015-2016 school year.) Judge Martone ordered the school district to provide (1) an IEP compliant with state and federal special education regulations; (2) 2 and 1/2 years of compensatory education; (3) placement at a private school with Willingboro responsible for all costs, including transportation and other related services. 


RCG ATTORNEY PROFILED BY LAW OFFICE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

RCG attorneys are always looking for ways to provide the most efficient and effective legal representation. To that end, the firm uses Clio, an international cloud-based computerized practice management system. This profile, Catherine Merino Reisman, Customer Success Story describes how one of RCG's founding partners was at the cutting edge of using technology to provide high quality legal services.

PARENTS REPRESENTED BY RCG CAN MOVE FORWARD IN FEDERAL COURT ON THEIR RETALIATION CLAIMS


Clients represented by RCG attorneys Judith Gran and Sarah Zuba received good news from a Pennsylvania federal district court. In Derrick Fahs v. Red Lion Area Sch. Dist., the court refused the school district's request to dismiss the parents' retaliation claims. Derrick's parents followed the advice of their son's physician, who recommended removal from the public school due to self-injurious behaviors in that setting. In response, school district personnel commenced truancy proceedings and reported the parents to Children and Youth Services for child abuse and neglect. A Pennsylvania state magisterial district judge found Derrick's father guilty of truancy. However, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas reversed that decision on appeal, stating that "the District knew very well the health and safety reasons" for Derrick's absences. The federal court held that these allegations were sufficient to allow parents to proceed with their case. The court also rejected the school district's argument that the parents had to file a special education due process hearing on the retaliation claims. Parents had no educational injuries that an administrative hearing could remedy and appropriately went directly to federal court. Now, the parents can move on to the next stage of the litigation. 


JUDITH GRAN SECURES RESIDENTIAL PLACEMENT REIMBURSEMENT IN FEDERAL COURT IN TENNESSEE

In S.B. v. Murfreesboro City Sch.Judith and her co-counsel, Jack & Marcella Derryberry, secured a reversal of an administrative decision denying tuition reimbursement. The court held that the placement and the IEP, as implemented, denied N.J.B. an appropriate education.  The court noted that N.J.B. "was placed into special education in the first place, at [Elementary School], because of his emotional and behavioral problems. All the goals and objectives of his IEPs with Defendant were behavioral. Plaintiff has presented evidence that his emotional and behavioral problems are not separate from the learning process." Accordingly, the court awarded reimbursement for N.J.B.'s placement at a residential facility. 

IN A VICTORY FOR PARENTS, NINTH CIRCUIT REVERSES DISMISSAL OF SECTION 504/ADA DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS

In A.G. v. Paradise Valley Unified Sch. Dist., the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a student was entitled to pursue her discrimination claims after the school district failed to address her behaviors and she was consequently excluded from her educational program. The case will now go back to the trial court, so that court can address the question presented by the ADA & Section 504: "Did Paradise Valley USD meet A.G.'s needs as adeqately as it met the needs of her peers?" The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates submitted an amicus brief in support of A.G. Catherine Reisman, Chair of COPAA's Amicus Committee, participated in review of the brief.

 



AMY CAROLLA SECURES VICTORY FOR CLIENT WITH TRANSITION SERVICE NEEDS

In C.R. & P.R. o/b/o W.R. v. Lenape Reg'l Bd. of Educ., the school district unsuccessfully attempted to deny W.R. his day in court. W.R.'s IEP, for many years, had contained a transition goal of attending college independentlyW.R. had achieved academic success, earning straight A's in his classes, but had not mastered the skills needed to transition to a college setting independently, including the social, emotional, and behavioral skills to do so. The Board of Education sought to deny W.R. a hearing on his claims, arguing that it was allowed to a "summary decision" in its favor because W.R. had done so well academically. The Administrative Law Judge denied the school district's motion, because the question of appropriateness of programming requires a hearing, and consideration of social/emotional/behavioral needs. In the meantime, because of an earlier victory (available hereon W.R.'s right to "stay put" services pending the school district's attempt to graduate him, he continue to receive services at school district expense at his private school placement.

 


US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ISSUES "SIGNIFICANT GUIDANCE DOCUMENT" ON FREE APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION - ENSURING HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR ALL STUDENTS IS A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

In a November 16, 2015 "Dear Colleague" letter (available here), the United States Department of Education issued guidance on the alignment of Individualized Educational Programs with the states' general education curriculum. The guidance clarifies that any student's IEP must align with the state academic content for the grade in which that child is enrolled. This applies to all students. When a child is performing significantly below grade level, the IEP Team should develop goals that are ambitiousachievable, and designed to close the gap in performance. For a very small percentage of students, those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, the states may continue to use alternate academic achievement standards. However, a child within this group must have IEP goals that reflect high expectations and are based on the state's content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled. This is a forceful reminder that low expecations remain the biggest obstacle to educational achievement for students with disabilities. 


Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba Attorneys Available to Speak to Your Group

The attorneys of Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba are always available to speak to your group, free of charge, regarding your legal rights in many areas, including special education, civil rights, discrimination claims, the IEP process, Section 504/ADA and the IDEA, and pursuing claims in due process. For more information, contact catherine@rcglawoffices.com.


TWO DECADES OF TIRELESS EFFORT BY RCG ATTORNEY JUDITH GRAN CONTRIBUTES TO CLOSURE OF TENNESSEE INSTITUTION

November 5, 2015 marks the successful culmination of two decades of effort by People First of Tennessee and its legal team, Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba partner Judith Gran, Jack Derryberry of Nashville and Earle Schwarz of Memphis. In 1995, People First, a self-advocacy organization governed and led by persons with disabilities and a 

number of individual institutional residents, sought to close the Clover Bottom Developmental Center in Nashville. Because of litigation by People First, this morning, the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) will hold a ceremony to mark the closure of Clover Bottom. Opened in 1923 as the “Clover Bottom Home and School for the Feeble Minded,” Clover Bottom was the product of the thinking of the Eugenics Era that persons with developmental disabilities should be kept separate from the rest of society to prevent procreation of the “unfit.” Nearly all residents of the institution have moved to small community homes in typical neighborhoods, where they receive around the clock staff support and a rich array of specialized services.

Judith, Jack, and Earle filed People First of Tennessee v. Clover Bottom Developmental Center in December, 1995. The parties negotiated a consent decree in 1996 that covered three of the four state institutions in Tennessee. People First and its legal team had previously filed a successful case against the Arlington Developmental Center near Memphis. Arlington closed in 2010 after nearly two decades of intense implementation activity.

At the time People First’s legal team filed the Arlington and Clover Bottom cases, Tennessee had few, if any, community services for persons with significant disabilities. Under the terms of the two consent decrees, the Tennessee DIDD developed a program of community services for every institutional resident with a professional recommendation for community placement.  In the implementation phase of the lawsuit, most of the plaintiffs' enforcement activity focused on the quality of community services. Now, Tennessee has one of the best community service systems in the nation and serves people with all manner of significant, complex disabilities in the community. With the projected closure of the state's remaining institution, Greene Valley Developmental Center, in June 2016, Tennessee will become the 15th state in the nation to have closed all its large congregate state institutions.

Congratulations to People First, Judith, Jack and Earle!!!



 

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION RELEASES
GUIDANCE ON DYSLEXIA, DYSCALCULIA, & DYSGRAPHIA

 

In a “Dear Colleague” letter dated October 23, 2015, the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education and Related Services  ("OSERS") clarified the role that dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia can play in special education determinations and programming. Important "take away" points:
 

 

  • There is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia or dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents. 

  • Regardless of whether a child has dyslexia or any other condition explicitly included in this definition of “specific learning disability,” or has a condition such as dyscalculia or dysgraphia not listed expressly in the definition, the school district must conduct an evaluation to determine whether that child meets the criteria for specific learning disability or any of the other disabilities listed in 34 CFR §300.8, which implements IDEA’s definition of “child with a disability.” 

  • School districts may use scientific, research-based general education interventions to identify children having a specific learning disabilities, but NOT simply to delay evaluation and identification. School districts must refer children not responding to general education interventions for a timely evaluation. 

  • If a child’s dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia is the condition that forms the basis for the determination that a child has a specific learning disability, the IEP Team could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability (e.g., that a child has a weakness in decoding skills as a result of the child’s dyslexia). OSERS reiterates that there is nothing in the IDEA or our implementing regulations that would prohibit IEP Teams from referencing or using dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in a child’s IEP. 

  • OSERS encourages SEAs to remind their LEAs of the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia during IEP Team meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA. 

 

For more information, contact catherine@rcglawoffices.com

 

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West Virginia Hearing Officer Holds that School District Denied Student the Rights to Education in the Least Restrictive Environment and to Free and Appropriate PUblic Education, Violating the IDEA and Section 504


In Student v. Putnam County Schools , Judith Gran once again prevailed on behalf of a student seeking a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. The hearing officer found that the school district did not include the student in general education classes to the maximum extent appropriate. In reaching this decision, he noted that "the parent has demonstrated that students who participate in general education classes have much better outcomes than other students." Additionally, the school district's substantive and procedural violations led to the denial of a free and appropriate public education. Finally, in "failing to provide an IEP that was reasonably calculated to confer more than trivial educational benefit and by failing to provide the LRE placement for the student," the school district violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Family May Proceed on Retaliation Claims in Federal Court in New Jersey - G.M. & M.C.M. v. Brigantine Public Schools

In July, 2014, Sarah Zuba and Catherine Reisman filed a complaint for G.M. & M.C.M., on their own behalf and on behalf of their sons,  alleging that the school district engaged in retaliation and discrimination. Specifically, the Complaint asserts that school personnel made unfounded reports to DYFS after the parents advocated for their son C.M.'s civil rights to an appropriate education. In a decision issued on June 8, 2015the federal district court in New Jersey rejected a school district's request that the case be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. 

Judith Gran Secures a Victory for LRE

I
n D.B. & L.B. o/b/o H.B. v. Gloucester Township Bd. of Educ., available HERE (pdf), a case Judith co-counseled with Christopher Soriano of Duane Morris LLP, the Administrative Law Judge rejected the school district's efforts to force H.B. into a more restrictive setting. Finding that she had made meaningful progress in her current stay-put program, the Judge ordered the parties to craft an IEP that included, at a minimum, the amount of time she currently spends in an inclusive setting.


New Jersey Office of Special Education Programs Issues Guidance on Independent Educatonal Evaluations

 

 

 

On September 9, 2014, New Jersey OSEP issued guidance (pdf) reminding school districts that the may not may not limit parents' right to an IEE request for an independent evaluation is received, a district must provide the evaluation at no cost to the parent unless the school district initiates a due process hearing to show that its evaluation is appropriate and a final determination to that effect is made following the hearing. On December 16, 2014, OSEP directed school districts to attach this guidance to all IEPs: Independent Educational Evaluations (pdf)

 

For more information, contact info@rcglawoffices.com.

Bullying and Students with Disabilities

 

In October, 2014, the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights issued additional guidance on bullying of students with disabilities (pdf). This guidance explains that the bullying of a student with a disability on any basis can result in a denial of FAPE under Section 504 that a school district must remedy. It describes schools' obligations to address conduct that may constitute disability-based harassment violation and also remedy the denial of FAPE resulting from disability-based harassment. The guidance provides a summary of the federal protections for students with disabilities in schools, explains the elements of a disability-based harassment violation and a FAPE violation, and discusses how OCR generally analyzes complaints involving bullying of students with disabilities on each of these bases.


Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba Attorneys Available to Speak to Your Group

The attorneys of Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba are always available to speak to your group, free of charge, regarding your legal rights in many areas, including special education, civil rights, discrimination claims, the IEP process, Section 504/ADA and the IDEA, and pursuing claims in due process. For more information, contact catherine@rcglawoffices.com.

**The case results described here and elsewhere by Reisman Carolla Gran & Zuba depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case. Our results in one case are neither a guarantee nor a prediction of similar results in any future cases.