A complaint filed by Disability Rights Maine, in coordination with the ACLU of Maine, Kids Legal at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, and the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic initiated the DOJ investigation.
Lewiston Public Schools (LPS) will have to end the district’s systemic and discriminatory practice of excluding students from full-day school because of behavior related to their disabilities, according to the terms of a settlement with the United States Department of Justice. The settlement, which was announced late on May 27, 2021, will also require LPS to provide equal educational opportunities to its English learner students.
The DOJ investigation was the result of a complaint filed by Disability Rights Maine, in coordination with the ACLU of Maine, Kids Legal at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, and the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law.
“This agreement is an important recognition of the harm, and absurdity, of abbreviated school day placements,” said Atlee Reilly, managing attorney at Disability Rights Maine. “Schools across Maine have been responding to clear indications of student need by offering those students less time in school. This makes no sense and, as DOJ recognized, can often result in discrimination against students with disabilities. This practice should end today.”
The DOJ investigation found that LPS routinely shortened the school day of students with disabilities without considering their individual needs or exploring supports to keep them in school for the full day.
“The issues investigated by the DOJ are pervasive and longstanding in many school districts,” said Courtney Beer, associate clinical professor at the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic. “This settlement is a great step towards ensuring students with disabilities and English Learner students in Lewiston Public Schools are afforded the same opportunities and access to education as their peers. With effective implementation and enforcement of this settlement, Lewiston has the opportunity to demonstrate how all students can and should have equal and uninterrupted access to their education, free from discrimination.”
According to the settlement agreement, LPS must take steps to ensure that students are not placed on an abbreviated school day as a result of disability-related behaviors, including implementing appropriate behavior intervention plans with fidelity.
Importantly, before placing a student on an abbreviated school day, LPS must “[d]etermine whether the District previously placed students on Abbreviated School Days, and if so, whether the placements succeeded in addressing the behaviors at issue and if not, why the District still believes Abbreviated School Day placements are appropriate.” This appears to be a welcome recognition of the fact that abbreviated school days will not actually address underlying concerns. Instead, students excluded from school are at increased risk of dropping out and becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.
The settlement agreement is available here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-settles-maine-school-district-protect-educational-rights-students.