Courtroom Preliminarily Approves Landmark Settlement That Improves Particular Training Providers in New Jersey State Prisons
The court tentatively approves a landmark settlement that improves special education services in New Jersey state prisons
The case Adam X. et al. v. New Jersey Department of Corrections and Department of Education et al., Filed January 2017, provides a national example of special education services in prisons.
Aug 11, 2021 – Newark, NJ –The New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) will dramatically improve the delivery of special education to people in its prisons, according to a settlement tentatively approved by the New Jersey District District Court last month. The class action lawsuit settles claims by three students who alleged they received special education in prison from the NJDOC and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act Denied (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ACLU of New Jersey and The Arc of New Jersey joined the case as organizational plaintiffs. Plaintiffs were represented by the ACLU of New Jersey Foundation, Disability Rights Advocates, and Proskauer Rose LLP. Read the settlement agreement.
“After years of negotiation, people in New Jersey prisons will now have meaningful access to special education services,” said Jeanne LoCicero, legal director of ACLU-NJ. “The changes brought about by this agreement will dramatically improve special education services for students in prisons and establish a comprehensive plan to oversee the provision of these services for years to come.”
The settlement agreement comes more than four years after plaintiffs filed their class action lawsuit in January 2017. The agreement will overhaul the special education services in New Jersey state prisons by mandating the implementation of newly created guidelines across the NJDOC and full monitoring by the NJDOE. The NJDOC adopts new guidelines which, among other things, pursue the following objectives:
- Identify students who are eligible for special education;
- Develop and implement individualized curricula and Section 504 plans as per the individual needs of each student;
- Providing individual transition services to eligible students;
- Offer at least four hours of lessons per day in a regular classroom, except in specific cases;
- Restrict the use of “cell studies” to certain limited circumstances and offer the opportunity for personal instruction even under these circumstances;
- Prohibit the use of worksheets as the primary teaching method.
- demand the use of appropriately certified teachers and evidence-based teaching methods;
- Develop and implement behavioral assessments and plans, and conduct “manifestation determinations” for disciplinary incidents that occur during the day and result in a disciplinary sanction (to determine whether these incidents were a manifestation of the student’s disability);
- Take specific steps to ensure that educational conditions for students in close detention units are in line with classrooms for the general population; and
- Provide interpreting and translation services for students with disabilities who are not fluent in English.
Read more about the NJDOC’s new guidelines.
The agreement also provides for a five-year term during which the NJDOE, assisted by a court-appointed external observer, Dr. Susan Roberts, will conduct solid oversight of the NJDOC’s special education and related services. During this semester, the NJDOE and the external monitor conduct on-site visits, observe classes, interview NJDOC staff and students, and review records. The NJDOE prepares corrective action plans that outline corrective actions for the NJDOC, and then reviews their implementation. The external monitor will also produce regular monitoring reports in which it assesses the essential compliance with the comparison conditions by the NJDOC and the NJDOE.
“The settlement agreement will improve the lives of many people with disabilities detained in New Jersey state prisons,” said Rebecca Rodgers, managing attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “We hope that the agreed changes will serve as a model for other institutions across the country.”
The settlement agreement creates extensive relief and provides for a compensatory education program in which class members can assert claims for services that they have between the 11th or re-entry purposes. New Jersey has the worst racial disparity in incarceration rates in the country; Educational deficits in state prisons have a disproportionate impact on people of color.
“We represent an incredibly vulnerable, but all too often ignored, population: young people with disabilities who are housed in adult prisons,” said Bill Silverman, pro bono partner at Proskauer Rose LLP. “As a result of this important and impactful case, we are pleased that NJDOC and NJDOE will take the necessary steps to provide appropriate special education and related services to class members. We will continue to work with the ACLU of New Jersey and disability lawyers on this and other matters to ensure equal access to justice. “
As part of the court order to tentatively approve the settlement agreement, the court also upheld the class action. The class includes individuals detained in NJDOC custody on or after January 11, 2015 who were identified or should have been identified as eligible for special education. This also includes all persons who were taken into custody under the age of 18 and who did not graduate from school in those years. It is estimated that the agreement affects over 400 class members. For more information, see the Notice on Class Reckoning.
As part of the court-approved termination plan, the class plaintiffs will be contacted with information about the settlement agreement. The U.S. District Court for the New Jersey District has scheduled a fairness hearing on January 26, 2022. Read more information on the case, including information on how to submit objections, inquiries, and compensatory clearance forms.
In May 2017, the court instructed Dr. Joseph Gagnon with the review and evaluation of the NJDOC’s special education offering – and the NJDOE’s oversight of it. Dr. Gagnon spent nearly 95 hours on-site in New Jersey state prisons, interviewing over 60 incarcerated students, observing classes for students with disabilities, meeting with faculty, and reviewing approximately 20,000 pages of documents. In 2018 he then presented a report and recommendations. More than three years of settlement negotiations followed, which led to the agreement described above.
The New Jersey ACLU works to defend freedom across our state. We engage in litigation and advocacy on behalf of individuals, and we lobby numerous bills in the state legislature and local councils. In addition, the ACLU is active in many public education and community organization projects. We implement legal, legislative, and public education programs in conjunction with large numbers of volunteers to advance the ACLU’s goals of freedom and justice for all. More information is available at www.aclu-nj.org
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) was founded in 1993 and is the leading national not-for-profit legal center for disability rights. Its mission is to promote equality and equal opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex system change class actions. DRA is proud to have kept the ADA’s promise since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s pioneering work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster risk reduction, elections and housing. More information is available at www.dralegal.org.
Proskauer is a leading international law firm with offices in key financial centers in Asia, Europe and North and South America. Proskauer has long been committed to legal advice and help for the disadvantaged and the poor. It’s deeply ingrained in our culture and in everything we do. We pride ourselves on working with organizations in our communities to make a difference to those who really need help. You can find more information about the law firm at www.proskauer.com.
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