TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that the Secaucus Board of Education has agreed to pay a severely disabled student $30,000 to resolve allegations it deliberately caused the student to miss out on her middle school graduation ceremony in 2012 by failing to notify her mother of the opportunity.
In addition to paying $30,000, the school district also has agreed going forward to provide proper notification -- via postal correspondence or e-mail -- to all students with disabilities regarding graduation ceremonies and other special events, and to notify the students’ case managers as well.
The school district also will provide staff-wide training in the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) , with a particular emphasis on how the LAD relates to student participation in events and activities.
“This settlement represents a fair and just resolution to an unfortunate situation,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This case wasn’t simply about allegations of disparate treatment. It was about a young, disabled student having the same chance as her non-disabled schoolmates to take part in an especially well-deserved youthful rite of passage.”
The Secaucus middle school student who missed her graduation has been diagnosed with a disability known as Cri Du Chat 5P Minus Syndrome. The syndrome is caused by a chromosome abnormality, and is characterized by significant intellectual disability and delayed development.
As a result of her condition, the student receives all of her educational services in a special education classroom, where she receives occupational, physical and speech therapy, and is accompanied by a licensed practical nurse.
As is true of many students with disabilities, the student has an Individual Education Program developed by a team of education and other professionals that includes a designated case manager. The team meets regularly to discuss the student’s goals and current progress, and sets goals for the following year.
On February 28, 2012, the student’s Individual Education Program team held a meeting that was attended by her mother. At that meeting, it was determined that the girl’s current placement at an eighth-grade level was appropriate, and would remain unchanged for next year.
However, in April 2012, an evaluation known as an Alternative Proficiency Assessment was conducted for the student, and Secaucus school officials determined, following that assessment, that she should be designated as a ninth-grader.
(In cases of students with significantly impaired communication skills and cognitive ability, educational performance assessments do not follow the same guidelines as assessments for other students. Instead, an Alternative Proficiency Assessment is used to measure the student’s progress toward achieving New Jersey State Educational Standards.)
In the wake of the student’s promotion to a ninth-grade level, her classroom teacher was made aware of the change. However, the girl’s mother was not informed. In June 2012 -- as the date for the annual Secaucus Middle School graduation ceremony neared – the student’s mother received a high school enrollment form to fill out on behalf of her daughter. However, absent any knowledge that her daughter had been designated a ninth-grader, she was confused by the form. The mother telephoned the middle school seeking an explanation, but did not receive a return call until after the graduation ceremony had taken place.
Although the school district blamed the situation on misunderstanding and miscommunication, the disabled student’s mother maintained that comments made to her by certain school staffers after the graduation suggested her daughter was deliberately excluded.
The mother told the Division her daughter’s exclusion was particularly troubling because the student’s grandmother, who has since passed away, did not get to see her graduate.
As part of the settlement, the girl was invited to participate in the 2013 Secaucus Middle School graduation ceremony, which took place in June, but her mother declined.
Under terms of the settlement, the Secaucus school district makes no admission of wrongdoing or liability.
Deputy Attorney General Megan Harris, and Investigators Agnes Roncaglio and Ana Limo-Magras handled the Secaucus board of education matter on behalf of the State.