Students with disabilities in one district will no longer be restricted to shortened school days under an agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Officials with the federal agency say that Lewiston Public Schools in Maine has agreed to stop its “systemic and discriminatory practice” of excluding students from full days of school due to behavior issues related to their disabilities.

The settlement comes after a Justice Department investigation found that the district routinely limited school days for students with disabilities without regard for their individual needs and without considering supports that could allow them to stay for the full day.

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The Justice Department said it moved to investigate the school district after receiving a complaint from Disability Rights Maine, a nonprofit that works to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Staff at Lewiston Public Schools did not have appropriate training to respond to disability-related behaviors, which contributed to an “over-reliance” on “abbreviated” school days, the department found. And, the investigation determined that students with disabilities were often deprived of instruction and behavior supports when they were sent home early.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department said that Lewiston Public Schools did not provide appropriate services to students learning the English language, many of whom languished in the English learner program for years without gaining fluency.

“Students with disabilities and students who are learning English need additional support and services in school — not additional barriers to learning,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Giving students with disabilities half the education they are entitled to is unacceptable.”

The concerns about shortened school days for students with disabilities are not isolated. Anecdotally, advocates have said that the practice is relatively widespread. And, in 2019, a federal class-action lawsuit was filed against the state of Oregon claiming that hundreds of students were wrongfully subjected to the practice in that state.

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