Judge: Lawsuit over pandemic-era services to NYC students with disabilities can proceed

A class-action lawsuit filed by students with disabilities and their parents claiming the city Department of Education failed to provide them with services during the pandemic will proceed, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic, demanding that the education department provide services like remote learning devices. The case was dismissed in 2022, but an appeals court later overturned that ruling.

Lawyers for Advocates for Children New York, the group that brought the lawsuit, said they will now begin discovery in the case.

“[Students] didn’t have access to the necessary equipment to even access remote learning,” said Rebecca Shore, the director of litigation for Advocates for Children. “Or their parents didn’t read English and so couldn’t understand the instructions on how to access remote learning. So students with disabilities in particular suffered greatly during the remote learning that was provided in New York City.”

Shore said the plaintiffs aren’t seeking any monetary compensation. Rather, they are asking the department to create a better system for students with disabilities to get remote learning services.

A spokesperson for the city Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. In the past, a spokesperson has said the department made a significant effort to make up for the pandemic era distributions for students with disabilities.

In February, students and parents across the city reported difficulties accessing remote learning services during this year’s only snow day.

According to the lawsuit, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that children with disabilities “receive a free appropriate public education” and allows parents of students with disabilities to challenge the school district on their recommendations to provide that service.

The suit argues that the lack of adequate services for remote learning during the pandemic for students with disabilities violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a protection for that class of students. The plaintiffs allege that the city public school system did not provide them with the “free appropriate” service and that the education department’s administrative hearing process is unable to resolve any means to find an alternative service.

Stephen Nessen contributed reporting to this story.

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