Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed legislation, S-2160/A-5701, that establishes a special education unit within the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). The special education unit will consist of Administrative Law Judges having expertise in special education law.
The goal of the special education unit is to help address the long-standing special education case backlog and delays in the scheduling of hearing dates that result in the decisions concerning the appropriate education and services to special education students. As Gov. Murphy noted, over the past twenty years, there has been an 80% increase in the total number of cases pending before the OAL and a 120% increase in special education cases. There are approximately 1,200 special education cases each year, which translates into an annual caseload of approximately 30 special education cases per Administrative Law Judge. As a result, the average time to resolve special education cases is generally much longer than the average resolution time for other matters pending before the OAL.
Under the new law, all contested cases concerning special education law referred to the OAL will be assigned to and adjudicated by the Administrative Law Judges in the special education unit. The number of Administrative Law Judges in the unit will be proportional to the number and complexity of special education cases referred to the OAL.
The new law also directs the Director and Chief Administrative Law Judge of the OAL to prepare an annual report to the Governor and to the Legislature regarding:
- The number of special education cases referred to the special education unit during the reporting period;
- The number of special education cases resolved by the special education unit during the reporting period;
- the average number of cases pending before the special education unit during the reporting period;
- The average time to resolution of the special education cases;
- A brief description of the outcome of the resolved cases;
- The number of Administrative Law Judges currently assigned to the special education unit;
- Recommendations as to whether the number of Administrative Law Judges is sufficient to render decisions within federal and State-mandated time periods and, if not, recommendations as to the number of Administrative Law Judges needed to enable the special education unit to render decisions within federal and State-mandated time periods; and
- Other relevant information and recommendations at the discretion of the Director of the OAL and the Chief Administrative Law Judge.
Gov. Murphy initially issued a conditional veto based on concerns that the new OAL unit will require a significant increase in staffing levels. He recommended revisions to delay the bill’s effective date to coincide with the appointment and confirmation of a minimum of fifteen new Administrative Law Judges and the necessary support personnel.
The New Jersey Legislature approved Gov. Murphy’s recommendations and amended the legislation accordingly. The new law will now take effect on the first day of the ninth month next following the appointment and confirmation of 15 additional Administrative Law Judges but in no case later than the first day of the 25th month following enactment.
If you have questions, please contact us
If you have legal concerns related to the new law and how it may impact your school district, we encourage you to contact Nathanya G. Simon, Chair of the firm’s Special Education Law Group, at 201-896-4100.