DOE: Incarcerated children must receive special education services

Photo of desks in empty classroom
Education for Inmates with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education released new guidance December 5, reminding state and local government agencies of their obligations to provide required special education services to students in prison.

“Absent a specific exception, all (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) protections apply to students with disabilities in correctional facilities and their parents,” the letter stated. “Supporting effective and accountable education for incarcerated and at-risk youth can result in cost savings to the public and enable troubled youth to obtain an education and enhance their future employment options and life choices.”

The DOE estimates that one third of students in juvenile correctional facilities have been designated as qualifying for special education services. This population represents more than 16,000 children nationwide.

The 21-page letter provides an extensive¬†overview of the IDEA’s key requirements. Among these requirements, state and local government agencies must ensure students receive services in the least restrictive environments according to their needs, and take proactive steps to identify students whom may be eligible for services, in what is known as the child find requirement.

The letter also underscores the students’ due process rights, including their right to a manifest determination review to determine if their behavioral difficulties are a manifestation of their disabilities.

“Ensuring that students in correctional facilities are receiving a high quality education will have a clear, positive effect in reducing recidivism and increasing post-release success in higher education, employment, and other life endeavors,” the letter stated. “Providing (a Free Appropriate Public Education) to students with disabilities in correctional facilities is not only required by law; it is critically important to ensuring successful outcomes.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the new guidelines at an event in Alexandria, Virginia as part of the President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” Task Force, which was formed to address educational barriers faced by young people of color, according to the Huffington Post.