As we approach the New Year, we are looking back at the public law issues that impacted New Jersey school districts in 2017. The past year brought a number of legal developments involving education law both at the state and federal level. Below is a brief summary:
Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District: The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that public schools are responsible for providing students with disabilities education programs that are “more than de minimis.” The Court’s decision significantly expands the obligations of New Jersey public schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Court clarified, “[f]or a child fully integrated in a regular classroom, an IEP typically should be ‘reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.’” The Court continued, with respect to disabled students, for whom advancement from grade to grade is “not a reasonable prospect,” an IEP “must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances.”
Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools: The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that exhaustion of the administrative procedures established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is unnecessary when the gravamen of the plaintiff’s suit is something other than the denial of the IDEA’s core guarantee of a “free appropriate public education.” The suit, brought by parents of a girl born with cerebral palsy, alleged that her school violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to allow her service dog to attend school with her. The Court determined that the Frys may not have been required to exhaust the IDEA’s administrative proceedings before pursuing a lawsuit in federal court. The Court noted it lacked important information, vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the matter with specific instructions to conduct the appropriate analysis. “[N]othing in the nature of the Frys’ suit suggests any implicit focus on the adequacy of (Elena’s) education,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote. “[T]he Frys could have filed essentially the same complaint if a public library or theater had refused admittance to Wonder.”
New Protections for Transgender Students: On July 21, 2017, Governor Chris Christie signed Senate Bill 3067, which provides new protections for transgender students and requires the Commissioner of Education to develop guidelines for school districts. The legislation is intended to ensure that transgender students are protected from discrimination and have a safe learning environment.
L.R. v. Camden City Public School District: The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court cleared the way for advocacy organizations to gain access to redacted reports detailing settlement agreements and other student records related to services provided to disabled and special needs students. Pursuant to the court’s decision, however, organizations must establish that they are bona fide researchers or obtain a court order. In its opinion, the Appellate Division highlighted the potential research value of the records. “Such information could yield trends or practices that could inform policy-making, academic studies, grants, and other related endeavors,” Judge Jack Sabatino wrote.
To learn more about the education law issues discussed above, we encourage you to click through to the relevant blog post. You can also contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s public law practice with any questions regarding how the developments may impact your municipality or agency.