Lewiston Public Schools (LPS) will have to end the district’s systemic and discriminatory practice of excluding students from full-day school because of behavior related to their disabilities, according to the terms of a settlement with the United States Department of Justice. The settlement, which was announced late on Thursday, will also require LPS to provide equal educational opportunities to its English learner students.  The settlement agreement is available here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-settles-maine-school-d...

The DOJ investigation was the result of a complaint filed by Disability Rights Maine, in coordination with the ACLU of Maine, Kids Legal at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, and the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, a program of the University of Maine School of Law.

The DOJ investigation found that LPS routinely shortened the school day of students with disabilities without considering their individual needs or exploring supports to keep them in school for the full day.

According to the settlement agreement, Lewiston Public Schools must take steps to ensure that students are not placed on an abbreviated school day as a result of disability-related behaviors, including implementing appropriate behavior intervention plans with fidelity.

Importantly, before placing a student on an abbreviated school day, LPS must “[d]etermine whether the District previously placed students on Abbreviated School Days, and if so, whether the placements succeeded in addressing the behaviors at issue and if not, why the District still believes Abbreviated School Day placements are appropriate”.  This appears to be a welcome recognition of the fact that abbreviated school days will not actually address underlying concerns.  Instead, students excluded from school are at increased risk of dropping out and becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. 

The following can be attributed as noted:

Atlee Reilly, Managing Attorney, Disability Rights Maine

“This agreement is an important recognition of the harm, and absurdity, of abbreviated school day placements.  Schools across Maine have been responding to clear indications of student need by offering those students less time in school.  This makes no sense and, as DOJ recognized, can often result in discrimination against students with disabilities. This practice should end today.”

Zachary Heiden, Chief Counsel, ACLU of Maine

“All children deserve educational opportunities free from discrimination. This is what students deserve, and it’s what our federal civil rights laws and the Constitution require. We expect the Lewiston school district to abide by the terms of this settlement, and to fulfill its legal duties toward all students, and especially students with disabilities.”

Connor Cory, Kids Legal Attorney, Kids Legal, Pine Tree Legal Assistance

“The term ‘abbreviated school days’ is really a euphemism for school exclusion. It is a practice that harms the most vulnerable students, and pushes them further away from needed resources rather than pulling them in. This settlement represents a great step forward for students and families in Lewiston.”

Courtney Beer, Associate Clinical Professor, Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, University of Maine School of Law

“The issues investigated by the DOJ are pervasive and longstanding in many school districts. This settlement is a great step towards ensuring students with disabilities and English Learner students in Lewiston Public Schools are afforded the same opportunities and access to education as their peers. With effective implementation and enforcement of this settlement, Lewiston has the opportunity to demonstrate how all students can and should have equal and uninterrupted access to their education, free from discrimination.”