P R E S S
R E L E A S E
PENNSYLVANIA AGREES TO CHANGES IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
TO INCREASE INCLUSION OF
STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
IN REGULAR EDUCATION CLASSES.
state of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
today concluded an historic settlement of
litigation designed to change the quality of special education services
throughout the state. Pursuant to the agreement, the state will change how
it helps its 501 school districts comply with the federal Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act and how it monitors that compliance. The
settlement is designed to increase the inclusion of students with
disabilities in regular education classes with non-disabled students.
settlement comes after ten years of effort in a state-wide class action
called Gaskin v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Education in
which the Law Center represented a class of 280,000 special education
students, 12 named plaintiffs, and 11 disabilities advocacy organizations,
including The ARC of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania TASH, and Pennsylvania
Protection and Advocacy, Inc.
United States Department of Education reported that Pennsylvania was the 7th
lowest state in 2002 for including students with disabilities in regular
Gran, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs,
hailed the agreement. The Rendell Administration recognized that in too many
parts of the state not enough has been done to provide students with
disabilities a meaningful education in the least restrictive environment.
Too many students and their parents have been frustrated by school
districts= failure to fulfill the promise of federal law. We are delighted
that this administration is willing to make the significant efforts
necessary to make Pennsylvania a leader in teaching students with
of the key new elements to refocus the state=s activities, the settlement
creates an Advisory Panel on Least Restrictive
Environment which shall meet quarterly to review progress in the
implementation of the settlement, including growth in inclusive practices,
improvements in quality of actual special education practices, and whether
teachers and other school personnel are receiving the training and
assistance needed to meet the needs of special education students. Twelve of
the 15 members of the Advisory Panel will be selected by the plaintiff
agreement provides that the state will undertake
a new effort to advance inclusion of students with disabilities in regular
for those 50 districts with the poorest record of inclusion of special
education students with regular education students. The state will
require corrective action plans for the targeted districts. The
remaining districts in the lowest 250 districts will be on an alert
status. Compliance monitoring for Least Restrictive Environment shall
review whether meaningful educational benefit is being achieved, as well
as for procedural compliance.
Changes in the
individual complaint resolution process to require interviews with
parents and all persons they identify as having actual knowledge of the
subject of the complaint
Changes in the monitoring process to require consideration of the
outcomes of all of the due process hearings and individual complaints in
assessing a district's record.
Changes in the approval
process of each district=s special education program to have it come
after and be based on consideration of the special education compliance
Increased commitment to
training and technical assistance by the state to assist districts in
assuring that all teachers have the necessary skills and knowledge of
best practices appropriate to the disabilities of the students in their
settlement will be enforceable for 5 years, with a dispute resolution
process requiring mediation before a dispute over
compliance goes to a federal judge.
States District Judge Eduardo Robreno is
expected to set a hearing to consider approval of the Settlement after
appropriate notice to the class. The settlement was negotiated with the
assistance of former District Court Judge Louis C.
Bechtle who acted as a discovery master and then mediator.
Pennsylvania Department of Education General Counsel Larry White led the
negotiating team for the state.
Historically many teachers who are not certified in special education are
uncomfortable teaching students with disabilities and are not trained in the
best practices for the students= particular
disabilities. A Law Center review of special education students found that
few students were receiving specialized designed instruction in regular
education classes, and that few of their education teachers reported having
received training or technical assistance in best practices for teaching
students with disabilities in regular classes. The Law Center=s
investigation was assisted by Dr. Beverley Evans and Dr. Linda
Lengyel at Duquesne University and by
statistician Dr. James Conroy.
lead plaintiff, Lydia Gaskin, is an example of successful inclusion. Born
with Down Syndrome, Ms. Gaskin is finishing her
last year in the Carlisle Area School District after being included in
courses with college bound students. Alydia and her classmates have all
benefited from the challenges she faced. She is
a full and participating member of her school community and she is a
stronger, more independent person than she would have been if segregated in
classes only with persons with disabilities,@ said her father Joseph Gaskin.
For further information contact: Judith
Gran, Esq. 215-627-7100 ext 225, Joseph Gaskin, 717-448-3476, or
Gia and Wade Royer, 717-273-6216.