High Impact Project Case Update: Integration of Children With Disabilities into Normal Classrooms in New York City School System

The update below summarizes the progress in a case coordinated under the auspices of the Barbara McDowell Foundation's Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project. The Project, national in scope, brings together law firms, social justice organizations, and volunteer attorneys to undertake by a joint effort significant litigation to protect the civil liberties and enhance the economic, health and social conditions of the poor and vulnerable.

This Project has been part of the Foundation’s work since 2010.  Under its auspices the Foundation has coordinated very successfully the initiation of high impact social justice litigation. See the Foundation's website here for summaries and updates of the cases litigated through the Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project.

Case Update: Investigation of a School System’s Failure to Integrate Disabled Children into Normal Classrooms and Programs

A class action lawsuit challenging New York City’s segregated school system for students with disabilities on Staten Island was filed on January 26, 2021.  The lawsuit alleges that Staten Island’s separate school district for children with disabilities, known as District 75, denies these students an equal education, forcing them into segregated schools and classrooms without adequate resources and with no meaningful opportunity to be integrated into their community schools.

The Plaintiffs, three Staten Island students with disabilities and the advocacy group Disability Rights New York, are not asking for monetary damages rather they seek reforms that will compel the New York City Department of Education to provide the resources necessary so that every Staten Island District 75 student has the opportunity to attend their neighborhood schools if they choose. Many Staten Island District 75 students attend schools located outside their communities and spend two hours or more commuting to school every day.

The Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that Staten Island District 75 students have unequal access or no access at all to school facilities, such as playgrounds, cafeterias, libraries, electives like music and art classes, and extracurricular activities like clubs and sports teams.  Very few District 75 students, the suit states, graduate with a regular diploma.  The lawsuit aims to secure for students with disabilities and their parents an inclusive education in Staten Island community schools rather than segregation of students with disabilities in a separate school system.

The case on behalf of Disability Rights New York (DRNY) and the three individual Plaintiffs will be litigated by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health LawDisability Rights Advocates (DRA), Disability Rights New York, the Law Office of Gerald Hartman under the auspices of the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation Inc., and the law firm Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.

A copy of the press release describing the lawsuit can be found here.

(February 2021)