Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Incarcerated Students and Special Ed Law- Part II #IncarceratedStudents

As we mentioned in our previous post in this series, there is a lot of activity recently on the issue of the special education rights of students who have a brush with the criminal justice system- being arrested or accused of a crime; spending time in juvenile hall; or even being incarcerated. This is clearly the emerging hot button issue. This is part two of the series.

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services confronted this issue in December of 2014 by issuing a Dear Colleague Letter that summarized the problem and called for action.  This was preceded in 2014 by letters from the Department and OCR. Here is a summary of the guidance from the agencies:

Dear Colleague Letter 64 IDELR 249 (OSERS 12/5/14) OSERS issued guidance on the IDEA rights of children with disabilities who are incarcerated.  The guidance spells out the responsibilities of state departments of education, school districts and other LEAs, correctional facilities and non-educational agencies in providing child find, identification, evaluation, FAPE, least restrictive environment, discipline protections and the other provisions of IDEA.  Here is a quote from the letter: "Students with disabilities represent a large portion of students in correctional facilities, and it appears that not all students with disabilities are receiving the special education and related services to which they are entitled. National reports document that approximately one third of students in juvenile correctional facilities were receiving special education services, ranging from 9 percent to 78 percent across jurisdictions.   States reported that in 2012–2013, of the 5,823,844 students with disabilities, ages 6 through 21, served under IDEA, Part B, 16,157 received special education and related services in correctional facilities.  Evidence suggests that proper identification of students with disabilities and the quality of education services offered to students in these settings is often inadequate. Challenges such as overcrowding, frequent transfers in and out of facilities, lack of qualified teachers, inability to address gaps in students’ education, and lack of collaboration with the LEA contribute to the problem. Providing the students with disabilities in these facilities the free appropriate public education (FAPE) to which they are entitled under the IDEA should facilitate their successful reentry into the school, community, and home, and enable them to ultimately lead successful adult lives."  You can read the twenty-one page Dear Colleague letter here.  The guidance was a part of a larger package, consisting of four guidance documents, of materials on the topic of educating incarcerated youth jointly issued by the federal departments of Education and Justice.  You can review the entire package here; See, Letter to Chief State School Officers 114 LRP 26961 (US DOE 6/9/14) The Department noted that incarcerated students, many of whom have disabilities should be provided supports to ensure that they meet educational goals and avoid recidivism.  Steps to address school to prison pipeline; and Dear Colleague Letter 64 IDELR 284 (OCR 12/8/14) OCR noted that more than 60,000 young people are in juvenile justice residential facilities and reminded that these students are entitled to equal educational opportunity including: access to coursework; services for ELLs; §504 FAPE; fair administration of discipline; freedom from harassment; effective communication for students with hearing, speech or vision disabilities; and LRE concerns.

What are your thoughts about this guidance from the feds?

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