Under an agreement with the Justice Department, a national network of more than 180 private schools will pay $215,000 and make a number of policy changes in order to settle a lawsuit alleging that the schools excluded students with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities.

Nobel Learning Communities, Inc. operates preschools, elementary and secondary schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia. In the lawsuit filed in April 2009, federal officials charged that the schools excluded children with disabilities from their programs in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Just like public schools, private schools must make reasonable modifications of policies to permit children with disabilities to participate fully in the programs they offer,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights. “This agreement ensures that children will not be denied quality preschool and other educational opportunities based upon their disabilities.”

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Under the settlement reached late last week, the schools agreed to establish a non-discrimination policy. What’s more, the company will pay $215,000 to the children cited in the lawsuit.

In addition, Nobel Learning Communities agreed not to use eligibility criteria that would screen out children with disabilities and to establish a process for parents to request reasonable accommodations.

For their part, Nobel Learning Communities denied any wrongdoing under the settlement. In a statement, the company said that the experiences of the children named in the lawsuit are unrepresentative of its practices. Since 2004, the company says its schools have educated more than 2,800 students with disabilities.