Two months after students inside the D.C. Jail filed suit against the city for failing to provide them federally mandated education during the pandemic, the D.C. public schools chancellor is responding to a judge’s order.
Judge Carl J. Nichols’s preliminary injunction, issued Thursday, orders D.C. to provide special education as outlined in the incarcerated students’ individual education plans, or IEPs. The city has 15 days to respond, but Chancellor Lewis Ferebee told WTOP the school system plans to meet the order.
“We will comply with any order from a judge as [it] relates to additional services that may be required to support those students,” Ferebee said during a DCPS roundtable on Friday. “One of our challenges I want to recognize has been, with COVID, there have been some limitations on the interactions that we can have with students.”
The two students who filed suit in April on behalf of a group of 40 D.C. students are part of the Inspiring Youth Program.
“We have and will continue to support students in-person,” Ferebee said. “That’s been a part of our strategy for ensuring that incarcerated youth continued to the education process.”
The judge’s order was based, in part, on his finding that D.C. did not implement student IEPs “to the greatest extent possible throughout the pandemic” because it failed to properly plan and implement a sufficient remote educational program at the Inspiring Youth Program, according to the the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, which applauded the judge’s move.
The group said the limited education DCPS provided did not offer students educational benefit and — because the students would suffer irreparable harm — an injunction was warranted.
“The young people who are incarcerated at the D.C. Jail deserve an opportunity to earn their high school diplomas and have already missed out on a year of education,” said Kaitlin Banner with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs. “The preliminary injunction will ensure that D.C. Public Schools provides them the education and services that will help them achieve that goal.”
While DCPS works to comply with the order, Ferebee said the incarcerated students are getting the same emotional support built into the schools curriculum.
“They are receiving social-emotional wellness learning,” Ferebee said, adding, “That is a focus for all of our schools, regardless of location of the campus, and we continue to provide support through the school year, for both academic and trauma response.”