Special Education Rights for Youth Defendants Amendment Act of 2019
Introduced: January 8, 2019
Co-introducers: Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Robert White, Jack Evans, Mary Cheh, Kenyan McDuffie, Charles Allen, and Vincent Gray
Summary: To amend Chapter 7 Title 16 of the District of Columbia Official Code to establish a panel of special education attorneys to represent students with identified special education needs who are involved in the criminal justice system.
Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:
Today, I am introducing the Special Education Rights for Youth Defendants Amendment Act of 2019.
This legislation amends Chapter 7 of Title 16 of the DC Code to establish a panel of special education attorneys at the Superior Court to represent students with identified special education needs who are involved in the criminal justice system. It requires the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants to issue a grant to the Superior Court for the purpose of funding all costs associated with this panel.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (also known as “I.D.E.A”) is a federal law that ensures children with disabilities have the opportunity to receive free appropriate public education, just like other children. According to this law, children with special needs are eligible for special education and related services up until the age of 22.
Currently, the Superior Court designates and approves a panel of special education attorneys for children with special needs in Family Court proceedings. However, adult students that appear in Criminal proceedings do not receive the same treatment even though they are owed special education and related services pursuant to I.D.E.A.
According to the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, students with disabilities represent a large portion of students in correctional facilities. In D.C., over 80% of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (“DYRS”) committed youth have special education needs, and over 90% of the DYRS-committed population is diagnosed with either an Axis 1 or Axis 2 diagnosis.
Special education attorneys provide a number of critical benefits for defendants, to include aiding the court on Fifth Amendment issues related to Miranda warnings and defendant confessions; helping a judge during sentencing by determining which programs, treatments, and placements are most appropriate; and ensuring defendants successfully receive the full extent of the protections pursuant to I.D.E.A.
Last year, I convened a multi-stakeholder working group of over 80 participants comprised of students, Councilmembers and staff, school leaders, advocacy groups, and executive agency directors and staff, including DYRS, the Department of Corrections, and the D.C. Superior Court. Together, we grappled with how best to improve collaboration and coordination among entities responsible for the education and care of students.
As a result, we produced a report of over 40 policy and legislative recommendations that will help improve educational outcomes. One of those recommendations was to create this bill.
This legislation will go a long way in helping ensure older students with special needs are adequately represented, and have a real opportunity to earn a high school diploma or G.E.D. and lead a more productive and successful life.