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N.J. Enters Agreement on Inclusion for Students With Disabilities

New Jersey has agreed to take several steps to raise the number of students with disabilities served in inclusive classroom settings, as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed nearly seven years ago by a group of disability-rights advocates.

The agreement to the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, says the state will conduct a "needs assessment" for about 75 districts with the worst track record for inclusion; provide training and support to district personnel on inclusive practices; monitor those districts for compliance yearly; and allow oversight by a committee made up of disability advocates.

"The advocates are hopeful that this carefully crafted settlement will result in a vast improvement in New Jersey's placement of children in the least-restrictive environment—an area where New Jersey, for decades, has trailed the rest of the nation," said Ruth Lowenkron, a senior lawyer at the Education Law Center in Newark, one of four plaintiffs, in a statement, which was finalized Feb. 19. The other plaintiffs were: Disability Rights New Jersey in Trenton, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network in Newark, and the ARC of New Jersey in North Brunswick. 

Advocates said the state was violating provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by sending students to out-of-district placements. The lawsuit, filed in June 2007, also said the state denied students in-class accommodations that would have allowed them to receive an appropriate education in a general setting. At the time, New Jersey led the country in the percentage of students with disabilities placed in schools outside of their home district.

Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey school board, said the state has made substantial movement in recent years to address inclusion. He noted that in the 2007-08 school year, about 10 percent of students with an individualized education program were attending school in facilities outside their home district. As of the 2012-13 school year, that figure had dropped to 7.8 percent. 

The settlement agreement is linked below. A list of the districts that will be monitored as part of the agreement begins on page 49. 

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