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Jailed students in Massachusetts sue Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over special ed access

Rick Sobey, Boston Herald on

Published in News & Features

A group of jailed men have sued the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over special education access for incarcerated students.

The three men between 18 and 22 on Tuesday filed the class-action lawsuit against DESE for reportedly not providing special ed instruction and services in houses of correction — which they’re entitled to under state law.

“DESE’s failure to uphold its legal obligation to provide adequate education to incarcerated youth is unacceptable,” Phil Kassel of the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee said in a statement.

“Every student, regardless of their circumstances, deserves access to a quality education that meets their individual needs,” Kassel added. “We are committed to fighting for the rights of these vulnerable individuals and holding DESE accountable for its failures.”

The three men are being represented by the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee and the EdLaw Project of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

In the lawsuit, they’re arguing that DESE has failed to provide special ed services to incarcerated students with disabilities.

Instead of DESE directly providing services, the state department has reportedly delegated much of its responsibility to HOC staff and local school districts.


The plaintiffs are “being denied the full spectrum of instruction and services to which they are entitled under their IEP and/or state law,” reads the lawsuit filed in Middlesex Superior Court.

The three men who brought the suit are: a 21-year-old student incarcerated at the Norfolk County jail who attended Boston Public Schools; a 20-year-old student incarcerated at the Plymouth County HOC who attended Quincy Public Schools; and an 18-year-old student incarcerated at the Essex County jail, whose most recent IEP was developed by the Haverhill School District.

“We are very proud to be representing young people who are in incredibly difficult circumstances and are still fighting to access the education they’re entitled to and build their futures,” said Elizabeth Levitan of the EdLaw Project.

The plaintiffs in the suit are demanding that DESE implement an effective system for identifying and providing special ed services to incarcerated youth — and provide a minimum of 27.5 hours of weekly general curriculum instruction.

DESE did not immediately respond to comment on Tuesday.


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