The recent settlement agreement between the Newark Public Schools and a group of parents of students with special needs serves as an example of the dilemma that all people with disabilities face in New Jersey and across America. The fact that a solution was ten years in the making illustrates the frustration that all people with disabling conditions and their families must face when seeking a judicial remedy.
The parents filed their original complaint more than years ago, citing the failure of the school district to respond in a timely fashion when a request was made for an evaluation pursuant to the implementation of special education services. Both federal and State law were violated.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Public Law 108-446) and the New Jersey Administrative Code for Special education (N.J.A,C. 6a:14) require that, within 20 calendars of a parent request for a student evaluation, a planning meeting will be held between the Parent and school Child Study Team personnel. If an evaluation is deemed to be warranted and an IEP is completed and signed by both parties, Special Education services must be implemented with 90 days. Unfortunately, in many cases this timeline is not met in school districts throughout New Jersey.
One of the factors that prevent school districts from meeting the mandated timeline is the lack of a sufficient number of appropriate personnel. As a result, students with special needs can be without special education and related services for months or years. This scenario is especially true in school districts that are financially strapped. The long term consequence can be a student eventually exiting out of the school high school program as a young adult, totally unprepared to face life in a competitive environment. Many of the these students who leave the high school special education program do not have the skills to live independently or hold a job or be able to pursue post-secondary education and training.
Perhaps most disturbing, this case took ten years before a remedy was arrived upon. By the time a settlement was reached, the children who were part of the original complaint had long left the school system and were now adults seeking success without receiving the education and related services that were mandated by the law. In essence, they were “thrown to the wolves”.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that is insensitive to the needs of people with disabilities. This is evident when we examine issues rated to employment, independent living, appropriate services in residential settings, and in community acceptance. When the global issue of community acquiescence is challenged, we are left with a portion of our population that will always be dependent on pubic supportive services. In essence, they will be a drain on society, rather than be contributors to it. Interestingly, this scenario has been repeated for generations, with no long-term solution in sight.
The current State Administration has put a price tag on people with disabilities, rather than recognize the value in each individual. In the long-term, we are left with individuals who will forever consist of a “welfare State” population, rather than be among those who are gainfully employed members of the community who live independently and socialize and engage in all aspects of community life; in essence, the realization of the goal is for these individuals to become true contributing members of our society.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.