Press Release dtd. November 4, 2016
The U.S. Department of Education announced today that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has entered into a resolution agreement with the Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools to address address problems concerning appropriate access to general education instruction for the district’s more than 4,000 students with disabilities.
During its compliance review, OCR examined whether the district discriminated against students with disabilities by failing to place them in the regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate to their needs.
The agreement commits the district to provide all students an equal opportunity to participate in the district’s programs by ensuring that each student with a disability is placed in the regular educational environment unless the district follows the procedural requirements of federal law to place students in a more restrictive environment.
“I am deeply grateful to Yonkers Public Schools for its commitment now to ensure that every student in the district will have access to educational opportunity that allows the student to thrive,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the office for civil rights.
OCR’s investigation revealed that during school year 2014-2015, approximately 4,298 (16.2 percent) of the district’s 26,488 students received special education and related aids and services. OCR found that 3,503 (81.5 percent) of those 4,298 students spent time outside of the regular classroom.
Of the 3,503 students, 1,890 (53.9 percent), were placed outside of the regular education classroom for at least half of each school day, and 1,766 (50.4 percent) were placed outside of the regular education classroom for 75 percent or more of each school day.
OCR found that student special education files lacked documentation of interventions attempted in the regular education classrooms prior to classification and placement. And, instead of containing legally required individualized rationales to support student placement in self-contained classrooms, fully 50 percent of the files OCR reviewed contained nearly identical boilerplate text that offered no information specific to the students for why students could not succeed in general education settings, or an explanation as to why the length/percentage of time placed outside of the regular education classroom was appropriate or necessary.
Examples of files OCR reviewed that lacked evidence of a student-specific basis for determining the student could not satisfactorily learn in a general education setting include:
- A fifth-grade student was classified speech language impaired, when the district determined that the student “made many academic improvements,” and his speech and language therapy were no longer needed. The student was functioning at grade level, enjoyed reading independently and reading historical fiction and non-fiction, and possessed a strong sight-word vocabulary and decoding skills. The district placed the student in a self-contained classroom for over 60 percent of his school day.
- An 11th-grade student was placed in a self-contained educational setting for more than 60 percent of his school day. The student’s individualized education plan (IEP) noted that the student had good word recognition/decoding skills, his reading comprehension skills were good, and his writing skills were “grade level appropriate.” His grade on the Regent’s Comprehensive English exam satisfied Regent’s diploma-required English credit.
- A ninth-grade student was placed in a self-contained classroom for more than 60 percent of the school day. The IEP noted that the student was a great and responsible student who took advantage of extra help sessions and was motivated and worked hard to achieve success. The evaluations revealed that he was slightly below grade level in language arts, but on grade level in math and science.
Prior to completing the investigation of the district’s special education program, the district requested to resolve the review and, on Oct. 20, 2016, entered into a resolution agreement with OCR.
In accordance with the resolution agreement, the district agrees to:
- Ensure that Pupil Support Teams at each district school complete and submit appropriate documentation of interventions attempted when referring students for an evaluation.
- Ensure that the district places students in the regular educational environment, unless it is demonstrated, for each student, that education in the regular educational environment cannot be achieved satisfactorily even with the use of supplementary aids and services.
- Ensure that the district documents decisions made about the educational setting for disabled students.
- Provide training to all those authorized to make placement decisions for students with disabilities about the district’s policies on the identification, evaluation and placement of disabled students for special education services.
- Include in training the requirement that students with disabilities are to be placed in the regular educational environment – unless it is demonstrated that the education of the student in the regular educational environment cannot be achieved satisfactorily even with the use of supplementary aids and services.
- Review the placement of all students with disabilities in self-contained settings, to ensure that these students are classified appropriately and are in the appropriate educational setting.
- Provide data to OCR to demonstrate compliance with the regulation implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, regarding educational setting, for future school years.