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CAPE MAY VOCATIONAL AGREES TO FAIRLY TREAT STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

July 3, 2013

The Cape May County Technical Board of Education and the NJ Division on Civil Rights (DCR) have entered into an agreement overhauling the admissions practices of the Cape May County Technical High School (CMCT) to give students with disabilities a fair opportunity to attend. The settlement follows a DCR investigation into why almost no students with disabilities were enrolled in the CMCT’s full-time program. 

In 2010, ELC alerted DCR to possible discrimination against students with disabilities after receiving a complaint from school district administrators in Cape May County. The administrators reported that their districts’ middle schools were encountering “significant difficulty” gaining admission for students with disabilities to the CMCT full-time program. 

DCR found that, in the 2009-10 school year, students classified with a disability under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) constituted 1.25% of the student body of the CMCT full-time program, even though the statewide classification rate was nearly 15%, and the rate for Cape May County districts was almost 18%. 

Statewide Data from the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) show that Cape May and other county vocational schools serve considerably more students with disabilities in part-time programs. However, in nine of the nineteen county vocational school full-time programs, fewer than 10% of the students had disabilities, while in six of these programs fewer than 4% had disabilities. The NJDOE data also show that 14 of the 19 vocational school districts served significant numbers of full-time students with disabilities in segregated classes, rather than in general education classrooms with their non-disabled peers. 

In June 2012, after DCR filed a complaint to obtain CMCT student records, the NJ Superior Court ordered the school to produce the records, while ensuring confidentiality. In its filing with the court, DCR described the difficulties of students with disabilities in gaining admission to CMCT, including a child who was not allowed to take CMCT’s admissions test unless the parent declared whether or not that child was classified for special education services. 

The settlement with DCR requires Cape May to use objective criteria in its admissions procedures, and it cannot ask if a student is classified as having a disability. The school also cannot review an applicant’s health record, Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan without permission from a parent. Parents must be given a reason for rejection if the student is not admitted, and they will have an opportunity to appeal. Cape May agreed to provide public notice of its revised admissions policies and to train its staff in the new procedures.

Cape May also agreed to provide DCR with statistics on student admissions for 2012 through 2016, including the total number of applicants and the number with IEPs and/or 504 plans who apply and are accepted or rejected from the full-time or part-time programs or are placed on a waitlist. 

DCR continues to examine the admissions policies of other county vocational schools to ensure that students with disabilities are treated fairly, consistent with state anti-discrimination laws.

“We are pleased that DCR has steadfastly pursued this matter to enable students with disabilities to be educated in vocational schools alongside their peers who do not have disabilities,” said Ruth Lowenkron, the ELC Senior Attorney who first brought this matter to DCR’s attention. “ELC will continue its efforts to ensure that the use of selective admissions policies by NJ public schools does not result in discrimination against students with disabilities and other special needs.” 

 

Press Contact:

Ruth Deale Lowenkron, Esq.
Senior Attorney
rlowenkron@edlawcenter.org 
973-624-1815, x21