WASHINGTON — Officials from the United States Department of Education recently reasserted their stance on providing high quality education to learning disabled students in correctional and secure settings.
The department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued a letter on Dec. 5 outlining educational requirements for incarcerated juveniles with learning disabilities. On Dec. 8, Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan reinforced this statement by announcing a new guidance package geared toward helping correctional facilities improve their educational services.
National reports show that approximately one third of students in juvenile correctional facilities receive special education services, ranging from 9 percent to 78 percent depending on the jurisdiction. However, it appears not all these students are receiving the special education and services to which they are entitled, according to the OSERS letter.
Juvenile correctional facilities are legally required to provide accommodations to learning disabled students, who themselves are legally entitled to receive the same level of education offered to learning disabled students in public schools. These accommodations can include providing speech therapy, tutoring, hearing aids or other services and devices as needed. These facilities must also ensure students are “appropriately included in general state and district-wide assessments,” according to the letter.
The letter pointed to several problem areas in the provision of free appropriate public education identified by the department. These include the transfer of education records, evaluation and identification of juveniles with learning disabilities, hiring and training of qualified personnel, development of individualized education programs, and the institution of appropriate disciplinary procedures. The letter also encouraged correctional facilities to educate this unique population in the least restrictive environment available, such as standard classrooms, and to allow these students to participate in recreational and nonacademic activities with the nondisabled students.
“The Department strongly encourages [state education agencies], [local education agencies] and other public agencies, and correctional facilities serving students with disabilities to review their policies, procedures, and practices to verify that they are in compliance with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requirements with a focus on improved educational outcomes for these students,” authors wrote, adding that these agencies must, as part of their monitoring responsibilities, ensure that identified noncompliance is timely corrected.
On Dec. 8, Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan reinforced the Department of Education statement by announcing a new guidance package geared toward helping correctional facilities improve their educational services. The officials released Guiding Principles for Providing High-Quality Education in Juvenile Justice Secure Care Settings, which outlines guiding principles for improving education to this specific correctional population, and includes clarifying language concerning Pell Grant eligibility.
Specifically, the document focuses on five guiding principles: providing a safe, healthy, inclusive climate that prioritizes education; providing necessary funding to support the needs of all learners; recruiting, employing and retaining qualified staff; instituting rigorous and relevant curricula aligned with state standards; and developing formal processes and procedures for successful community reentry.
"In this great country, all children deserve equal access to a high-quality public education — and this is no less true for children in the juvenile justice system," said Attorney General Holder in a statement. "At the Department of Justice, we are working tirelessly to ensure that every young person who’s involved in the system retains access to the quality education they need to rebuild their lives and reclaim their futures. We hope and expect this guidance will offer a roadmap for enhancing these young people’s academic and social skills, and reducing the likelihood of recidivism."