EF v. New York City Department of Education
On January 26, 2021, DRA and partners filed a major class action lawsuit challenging New York City’s segregated school system for students with disabilities on Staten Island. The lawsuit alleges that the borough’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 seeking 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.
Research has long shown that students with disabilities score higher on academic achievement tests and are more likely to graduate with a diploma as well as maintain employment when they learn in an integrated learning environment with students without disabilities. However, in many cases, being labeled as having a particular disability or needing certain supportive services has meant an automatic, segregated Staten Island District 75 placement.
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 graduate with a regular diploma, and Black students with disabilities are overrepresented in segregated District 75 schools. This lawsuit will support students with disabilities and their parents in securing quality, inclusive education in Staten Island community schools with their siblings and neighbors.
New York City has been on notice of concerns about District 75 since at least 2008, when the Council for Great City Schools issued its City-commissioned report, “Improving Special Education in New York City’s District 75.” According to the report, “the isolation of students [is] more pronounced in the New York City school system than in other major urban school system known to the team…leaving District 75 alone is not acceptable.” New York education and disability advocates have also sought reforms to District 75. But the City has continued to maintain the segregated District 75 system, instead of providing expertise and resources to Staten Island community schools so that they can enroll District 75 students.
The case will be litigated by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Disability 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 on behalf of Disability Rights New York (DRNY) and individual Plaintiffs.