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Providence,RI: ACLU sues district over failing to provide SPED services

July 17, 2023, Providence (RI) Journal: 'Systemic failures' in Providence school special education lawsuit alleges

PROVIDENCE — The state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union is accusing, in a class action lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, Providence Public Schools and the state of failing to provide critical special education services to hundreds of preschool-aged children with disabilities.

Citing “systemic failures to comply with federal law,” the ACLU and the Rhode Island Center for Justice allege that the district, which is under the oversight of the Rhode Island Department of Education and state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, of not meeting its obligations under federal law to provide early intervention services to children between the ages of 3 and 5 who have sensory, emotional, physical, cognitive or language disabilities.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the state and school district to begin providing those services or else contract with other school districts and educational providers to do so. “Today, children with disabilities in Providence stop getting desperately needed special education and related services on their third birthday and their parents are told to wait patiently, for months and even years when we all know that timely services are needed to maintain the progress made through early intervention,” ACLU cooperating lawyer Ellen Saideman said in a statement. “It is heartbreaking that such young children are regressing and failing to make progress when the law clearly requires timely special education services.”

State and district officials attributed the issues to special-education staffing shortages nationwide.

"The root cause of the delay in providing the requisite evaluation and special education services has not been due to any lack of supervision by RIDE or any PPSD policy or procedure, but rather the result of a crippling national shortage of qualified special education teachers and related personnel. Further, many students are coming out of the pandemic with increased needs," they said in a statement….

"At no time did the Plaintiffs’ attorneys suggest anything that could be done to hasten the delivery of the needed student evaluations and special education services other than what RIDE and PPSD have either done, or planned to do, despite having been asked for alternative remedies on several occasions," the officials said.

"RIDE and PPSD have pursued available services, programs, and/or staffing by contacting school districts and private programs within the local geographic area to inquire as to their ability to provide the needed services, to no avail," officials said.

RIDE and PPSD aim to resolve all the concerns by September of 2023, and said they had made every effort to provide eligible students with compensatory services while acknowledging district's obligation to all students whose evaluations and/or services had been delayed.

They had even hired a consultant to review the current special-education protocols, staffing and operations relative to early childhood special education services

"RIDE and PPSD remain committed to ensuring all students have access to high-quality learning experiences and will work collaboratively with federal, state, local and community stakeholders to remedy this unfortunate situation," the joint statement said.


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