Settlement Reached In 25-Year-Old Special Education Case
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A proposed settlement in a 25-year-old class-action lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Ohio against the Ohio Department of Education is expected to improve educational support and academic achievement for more than 250,000 students with disabilities across the state.
The agreement announced earlier this month, but subject to federal court approval, will give the state’s Department of Education one year to develop a plan to improve student literacy, test scores, graduation rates and other performance measures.
It also requires greater inclusion of children with disabilities in regular classrooms in 11 of Ohio’s large urban school districts, which currently have the poorest academic results for students with disabilities and the highest rates of segregating such children.
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Under the agreement, the state must provide additional support to students and professional development and technical assistance to teachers. The proposal does not project how much the plan will cost.
“This settlement will create a court-enforceable plan that should open many doors of opportunity for students with disabilities who are currently shut out of a quality education in Ohio,” said Kerstin Sjoberg, assistant executive director of Disability Rights Ohio.
Ira Burnim, legal director at the Judge Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, called the agreement “ground-breaking.”
“Ohio will roll up its sleeves and do the work required to help kids with disabilities learn,” Burnim said. “We hope this agreement sets a precedent and provides a model for improving student achievement nationwide.”
The agreement, signed by the two advocacy groups and state schools Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, will be submitted to U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson after the parties reach agreement on payment of the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.
Education officials said the agreement aligns with the state’s strategic plan for education, Each Child, Our Future.
“Students with disabilities can be successful if we commit ourselves to understanding their needs and creating learning opportunities based around them. There’s good work happening in Ohio’s schools, and we’re excited to partner with educators, parents, community members and others to share best practices and get better in the interest of our students. Their futures depend on us,” said Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Brittany Halpin.
Sjoberg said the lawsuit was filed in 1993 on behalf of unnamed students under the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires students with disabilities be placed in classrooms with their typically-developing peers “to the maximum extent appropriate.”
But the case was set aside for years while the DeRolph case meandered its way through the courts, ultimately overturning the way Ohio funds public schools. Oversight of the DeRolph case concluded in 2012 and, Sjoberg said when the issues facing students with disabilities had not been resolved, the case was reactivated.
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