A proposed class action alleges the District of Columbia has failed to provide special education to students with disabilities who have been incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 55-page complaint alleges incarcerated students with disabilities have instead received for more than a year “work packets in lieu of classes,” and been left to effectively “teach themselves all of their subjects.” The case argues that without “swift” intervention from the court, incarcerated students with special education needs will “continue to languish without education and the critical supports they need, causing irreparable education and social-emotional harm.”
Filed by attorneys with the School Justice Project, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and a D.C. law firm, the lawsuit states that high school students with disabilities and special education needs who are detained in the District of Columbia’s Central Detention Facility and Correctional Treatment Facility (the D.C. Jail Complex) are enrolled in an on-site school called the Inspiring Youth Program (IYP), run by District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, DCPS, the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the District “eliminated these students’ classes and have since effectively abandoned efforts to teach them.”
Per the suit, the DCPS stopped in-person classes for all students on March 13, 2020 and began the transition to distance learning later that month. Students learning from home were provided by DCPS “class materials and direct instruction by teachers” via an online platform with two-way videoconference classes, the case says. According to the lawsuit, however, classes never resumed in any format for roughly 40 students enrolled in DCPS at the D.C. Jail Complex, “all of whom have disabilities and special education needs,” the suit stresses.
From the complaint:
“While other students resumed virtual (and later in-person) classes the students at IYP only received work packets. These work packets are inaccessible for students with disabilities, many of whom, are functioning below grade level in reading comprehension and writing skills. DCPS has the work packets sporadically dropped off at the students’ cells or uploaded to tablets and expects the students to complete the work on their own with no teacher instruction. Then, after the work is collected, the students never see their assignments again and receive little to no feedback except for generalized progress reports or final grades at the end of each term. Students are also not receiving mental health counseling or their other required services. The lack of these critical services, like counseling, leaves these vulnerable students to cope on their own.”
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Rehabilitation Act and D.C. law require that the defendants provide or otherwise ensure IYP students, each of whom possesses an Individualized Education Program (IEP) tailored to their academic needs, receive a free appropriate public education, the proposed class action says. For students in the D.C. Jail Complex, DCPS has “systematically failed” to implement their IEPs by halting class instruction and related services, the suit claims.
In what the complaint describes as “the most extreme of implementation failures,” the plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit, have not received regular teacher instruction, let alone the specialized instruction they require, or regular related services in conformity with their IEPs since March 13, 2020. As the case tells it, the work packets students at the D.C. Jail Complex receive are a poor substitute for the real thing.
“The work packets cannot provide these students with the specialized instruction and support that they need and do not replace their classes or counseling sessions,” the lawsuit says, stressing that the students require direct instruction that calls for teacher-student interaction either in person or virtually.
The complaint says that the allegations contained therein are “not the result of an error or mistake, but a deliberate decision to abandon the educational welfare and needs of students detained in the D.C. Jail Complex.” More from the suit:
“Plaintiffs are members of a vulnerable student population. These detained students must grapple with the challenges caused by their disabilities while being entirely dependent on the District government. Unlike students in the community who are learning at home, they cannot enroll in another school or district. They cannot avail themselves of family to assist in obtaining alternative educational services or help securing the services of a private tutor. They rely solely on defendants, and defendants have left them to languish.”
Named as defendants in the case are the District of Columbia, District of Columbia Public Schools and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. The lawsuit can be read below.
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