The nation’s capitol continues to fail to locate children ages three to five eligible for special education services, according to an order released November 16 from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“In the first few years of a child’s life, there exists a narrow window of opportunity in which special education, tailored to the child’s particular needs, can work a miracle,” the court stated, emphasizing the necessity of resolving the long-running litigation that began with a class-action lawsuit in 2005.
The court’s order, which examined the district’s services from 2008 to April 2011, extends a previous order requiring the district to fill a number of performance benchmarks after finding that the district similarly failed to provide services from 2005 to 2007, according to an article in the National Law Journal.
Nationwide about 5.68 percent of children ages three to five are eligible for Part B Special Education Services, as required by the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. The district provided Part B services to about 2.72 percent of children in that age group in 2008, a figure that raised to 4.62 percent in 2010.
However, the court found that based on comparisons with cities with similar disability demographics, at least 8.5 percent of the district’s three to five year olds are likely eligible for Part B services. The court ordered the district to improve its outreach efforts and coordination services between its medical, education and welfare services until it reaches this benchmark.
The district also routinely failed to evaluate and provide eligibility determinations for the children receiving services in a timely manner, according to the court. Similar problems arose when children receiving Part C early intervention services attempted to transfer to the Part B programs.
The court warned that if the performance benchmarks aren’t met, it will appoint a court-appointed monitor or take other measures to enforce compliance.
“Defendants’ persistent failure to live up to their statutory obligations, a failure that works a severe and lasting harm on one of society’s most vulnerable populations—disabled preschool children—is deeply troubling to this Court,” the court stated. “Since defendants have demonstrated their historic inability to keep their promises to the District’s disabled preschool children, this Court hereby makes it crystal clear that failing to abide by the Court’s Order will earn defendants far more significant court involvement and oversight than is ordered this day.”