Education and Impact Litigation: Advocating for Timely Re-enrollment
In 2004, The Legal Aid Society of New York, Advocates for Children of New York and Dewey Ballantine LLP brought a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of New York City students ages 7-21 who were detained or placed in custody as a result of involvement with juvenile or adult court systems. The lawsuit, known as J.G. v. Mills, alleged that when these students were released from a court-ordered setting, they were denied timely re-enrollment in New York City schools or were warehoused in alternative settings and provided inadequate educational services. The complaint also alleged that court-involved youth with disabilities did not receive adequate educational services while in detention in New York City. Although the process has taken longer than we would like, this lawsuit has helped to bring significant improvements to the educational services provided for court-involved youth in New York City.
The lawsuit challenged both the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the New York State Education Department. In 2008, the plaintiffs settled with New York State, with respect to claims of deficient oversight. Following a period of monitoring New York State’s compliance, the State settlement ended. In 2011, the plaintiffs settled with New York City DOE. The City settlement required the DOE to:
Enroll all students returning from placements in the juvenile justice system promptly after they return to New York City;
Create and implement appropriate education plans for students with Individualized Education Program (IEPs) in DOE schools in detention and placement;
Ensure students with IEPs returning to DOE from court-ordered setting receive timely and appropriate special education services and placements;
Request the student’s educational records from the non-DOE court-ordered setting, if those records have not been provided; and,
Evaluate any transcripts or attestations of credit accumulation for returning high school students and award such credits towards a high school diploma.
The Legal Aid Society and Advocates for Children have monitored compliance with the City settlement and, after four extensions terminating on September 30, 2016, we are pleased to report that we have witnessed great progress. The J.G. settlement has successfully improved educational services to the students in detention and placement and to students returning from detention and placement. The timeliness of re-enrollment in community schools, the timeliness of IEP development, the consistency of transcript review and the award of credit have all improved drastically. Pursuant to a side agreement, DOE will continue to report data for the 2016-2017 school year to the Legal Aid Society and Advocates for Children and respond to J.G.-related concerns.
In addition to the improvements brought to bear through the monitoring process, significant improvements have also come about due to legislative change. The Close to Home initiative has led to fewer youth in State custody, placing them instead in City custody. Because the DOE provides education to most youth in City custody, fewer transitions between agencies are taking place, making it easier for DOE to appropriately address the needs of these youth. In addition, pursuant to a recent New York State regulation, a principal (or designee) must award transfer credit to a student upon attestation. As a result, students return from State custody to the DOE with an attestation as to credits earned. The combined effect of the improvements driven by the J.G. settlement and these legislative changes has greatly improved the educational services provided court-involved youth in New York City.
For further information, please contact Lisa Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dawn Yuster at email@example.com.