Judge Approves Settlement Ensuring Improved Access to Critical Services for Bronx Students with Disabilities
July 30, 2021 – New York, NY – A United States District Court approved a settlement with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) to resolve a 2017 lawsuit brought by Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS) and two students with disabilities in the Bronx, represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA). The class action lawsuit challenged the DOE’s denial of legally mandated special education services, and the settlement agreement provides broad relief for the class.
The settlement addresses concerns raised in the lawsuit regarding the NYCDOE’s issuance of related service vouchers to families of Bronx students with disabilities who need related special education services, such as occupational therapy or speech therapy. The NYCDOE issues these vouchers when it does not have capacity to provide the services in schools, and it has often issued the vouchers without providing families the information and resources they need to actually secure services for their children using the vouchers.
Under the agreement, the NYCDOE will make a variety of changes to its policies and practices. These changes are aimed at decreasing the NYCDOE’s reliance on vouchers by increasing its capacity to provide services to Bronx students in schools. When it is necessary for the NYCDOE to issue a voucher, the agreement ensures that families will receive the support and information needed to utilize the voucher to obtain services for their child and facilitates families obtaining make-up services for any services missed during this process.
Brett Eisenberg, executive director of BILS, said, “It’s crucial that students with disabilities receive their related services in order to truly have full access to public education. This agreement will bring long-needed improvements to related services for Bronx students.”
“We are pleased that NYCDOE is taking these important steps to improve related services delivery, and the related services voucher system, for students with disabilities in the Bronx,” said Rebecca Serbin, a staff attorney at DRA.
About Disability Rights Advocates
Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since its inception. DRA’s precedent-setting work has dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting, and housing for people with disabilities across the country. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.
About Bronx Independent Living Services
Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS) is an independent living center located at 4419 Third Avenue, Bronx, New York. Founded in 1983, BILS is a consumer-based, non-profit organization that provides services and advocacy for independent living for individuals with disabilities. BILS’s mission is to ensure full integration, independence, and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural, and civic life of the community. For more information, visit www.bils.org.