Federal Court Judge Finds DC in Contempt for Failing to Comply with Court Order to Provide Special Education to Students at the DC Jail

For more information contact:

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

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Judge Carl J. Nichols of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia entered an Order ruling that the District is in contempt of the Court’s preliminary injunction issued on June 16, 2021 because DC is continuing to fail to provide special education to the students with disabilities who are incarcerated at the DC Jail.  The District must comply with the contempt order by March 15, 2022, and take steps to ensure that students have access to the education the District denied them.

The preliminary injunction ordered the District to provide students “with the full hours of special education and related services mandated by their [Individualized Education Program (IEP)] through direct, teacher-or-counselor-led group classes and/or one-on-one sessions, delivered via live videoconference calls and/or in-person interactions” by July 1, 2021. Yet, as the District’s own reports have shown, they have never met this benchmark. In his Contempt Order, Judge Nichols noted that, “every student currently enrolled in the Program remains at an inexcusable educational deficit for this school year—a failure all the more baffling given that the Court entered its Preliminary Injunction months before the school year began.”  Judge Nichols further stated “[i]t is beyond doubt (indeed, it is essentially conceded) that Defendants have failed, and are continuing to fail, to comply with the Preliminary Injunction. They have had ample time to do so, yet remain out of compliance.”

In April 2021, two students, on behalf of themselves and a class of all other students at the D.C. Jail, filed a lawsuit challenging the District’s failure during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide them with education and other services that they are entitled to under federal the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The failure to provide special education and related services prior to the injunction will be addressed later in the case.

To remedy the contempt, the Court has ordered the District to submit individualized plans to provide the special education hours missed for each student enrolled at the s high school at the DC Jail from September 1, 2021 through January 31, 2022; have a fully operational remote learning system in place by March 15, 2022, to provide the required special education services when necessary, and to extend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) eligibility for all students that would have received special education services had the District complied with the preliminary injunction.

Kaitlin Banner, Deputy Legal Director at Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs says: “The District’s failure to comply with the preliminary injunction is inexcusable and has denied young people access to their much-needed special education.  The young people who are incarcerated at the DC Jail – who have not only missed out on months of education due to the District’s contempt – deserve an opportunity to earn their high school diplomas.  The Contempt Order is a clear signal that DC must take seriously it’s obligation to provide special education and related services at the D.C. Jail.”

Tayo Belle, Senior Staff Attorney at School Justice Project says: “Today’s contempt order is a historic victory for the often overlooked high school students incarcerated at the DC Jail. The provision of special education in correctional education settings is a right guaranteed under federal law. These young people are fighting for their right to obtain an education, which is central to their rehabilitation goals. It is a shame that the District had to be found in contempt rather than simply providing education eight months ago.”

Carolyn Smith Pravlik of Terris, Pravlik, and Millian, LLP, who argued the motion, commented that:  “The Judge’s Order sends a clear message to the District that it cannot continue with business as usual but must immediately take effective steps to meet the Court’s injunction and thereby meet the educational needs of the high school students at the DC Jail.”

The court’s order can be found here.


The Washington 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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