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NJ SPECIAL EDUCATION PRACTITIONERS PROTECT RIGHT OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES TO STAY IN CURRENT PROGRAMS

Shortly after the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) took effect in July 2005, the New Jersey Department of Education enacted a policy, without notice, that deprived students with disabilities of their right to "stay-put" in their current program pending disputes about proposed program changes. The NJ Special Education Practitioners, an advocacy group spearheaded by Education Law Center, advised NJDOE of the illegality of NJDOE’s policy. In response, NJDOE announced a change in policy that will once again protect the right of students with disabilities to "stay-put."

Under IDEA 2004, students continue to be entitled to "stay-put" in the last program agreed to by their parents when school districts propose a change in program that is disputed by the parents through mediation or due process. However, as of July 1, 2005, NJDOE required parents who failed to reach agreement at mediation to open a new case in order to proceed to a due process hearing, and did not allow the right to "stay-put" to carry over to the new case. As a result of the NJ Special Education Practitioners’ efforts, NJDOE announced in a letter dated December 22, 2005 that, as of December 1, 2005, its procedures have been changed to allow for the conversion of a case from mediation to due process while protecting the right to "stay-put."

"We are pleased that the State has changed its policy," said Ruth Lowenkron, ELC senior attorney, "but remain concerned about those students who may have been negatively affected by the illegal policy that was in place from July 1 until December 1, 2005." Lowenkron adds that any affected individuals may contact ELC for assistance.