District Government Sued For Not Providing Education to Incarcerated Young People With Disabilities

April 12, 2021


Gregg Kelley, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs Gregg_Kelley@washlaw.org, 202-319-1070

WASHINGTON – Today, two incarcerated students with disabilities, on behalf of themselves and a class of other students, are suing the District of Columbia for its failure to provide special education instruction and services during the pandemic. Over a year ago, on March 13, 2020, DC Public Schools (DCPS) stopped in-person classes for all students due to the public health emergency.  Although DCPS resumed virtual education for most students in the community, for the approximately 44 students enrolled in DCPS at the DC Jail complex, all of whom have disabilities and special education needs, DCPS has never resumed classes. Instead, students have only received inaccessible, inadequate, and inconsistently delivered work packets in lieu of classes taught by qualified teachers either in-person or virtually.

Although each student has a comprehensive plan tailored to the student’s educational needs called an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which details, among other things, the instruction and related services each student needs to ensure that the student can make progress, DCPS has completely failed to implement these IEPs.  For the past year, students have had virtually no instruction and have not received mental health counseling or other services.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and District of Columbia law require that defendants provide or otherwise ensure the provision of a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) to these students.  Plaintiffs are asking the court to provide preliminary relief and order the District to, among other things, provide plaintiffs’ special education and related services in conformity with their IEPs through the provision of in-person or virtual classes and counseling sessions.

Plaintiff Israel F., one of the students, says “I am fighting for this case so people who are in my predicament can have a chance to succeed. I want to have a better education for myself and others.”

“Black students make up 58% of the DC Public Schools population. However, at the DC Jail complex, 95% of the students are Black. The District does not have a great track record of treating its Black population equitably and nowhere is this more telling than in the school in the DC Jail complex. These students already face obstacles due to historical racism in our country,” says Tayo Belle, Senior Staff Attorney at School Justice Project.

“The violations detailed in this suit are not the result of an error or mistake, but a deliberate decision to abandon the educational welfare and needs of students detained in the DC Jail complex,” says Kaitlin Banner, Deputy Legal Director for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “These students are incredibly vulnerable. Unlike most other students, they rely completely on the District for their special education needs. The harm being done is incalculable.”

“Students with disabilities are extremely susceptible to being left behind if not given a proper education. Marginalization is exacerbated for young people that are involved the criminal justice system.  Asking them to fend for themselves regarding their education has the potential to derail their futures,” said Stephanie Madison, Attorney at Terris Pravlik & Millan LLP.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, School Justice Project, and Terris Pravlik & Millian LLP. Plaintiffs’ names in the case are pseudonyms in order to preserve confidentiality. Defendants are the District of Columbia, District of Columbia Public Schools, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

The filed complaint can be found here.
The filed motion for a preliminary injunction can be found here.


DC Line
The DC Post


ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: Founded in 1968, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org or call 202.319.1000. Follow us on Twitter at @WashLaw4CR.

ABOUT SCHOOL JUSTICE PROJECT: School Justice Project (SJP) is a non-profit legal services and advocacy organization serving DC’s older court-involved students with disabilities. SJP uses special education law to ensure that older, court-involved students with disabilities have access to a quality education, both during incarceration and throughout reentry.  SJP works to build racial justice by increasing educational equity and decreasing mass incarceration through direct representation, systemic advocacy, and community outreach and legal training. Using special education law in the juvenile and criminal contexts, SJP aims to spark a system-wide overhaul, transforming the educational landscape for older court-involved students with disabilities. For more information, please visit www.sjpdc.org.

ABOUT TERRIS PRAVLIK & MILLIAN: Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP was founded in 1970 by the late Bruce J. Terris as a public interest law firm.  For over 50 years, TPM has litigated cases in the areas of civil rights, poverty, employment, and environmental law.  Our work includes advocating for special education access for young children in the District of Columbia, ensuring DC Medicaid recipients have access to services, and pursuing the clean-up of hazardous and other waste sites.  For more information, please visit www.tpmlaw.com.

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