Special education services are available for children over the age of three through age 21 who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) provides the legal grounds for children with disabilities to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). These services are administered by the school district where the child lives.
On This Page:
Surrogate Parents in Special Education, Published August 2022
Restraint and Seclusion in Ohio Schools: Gaps in Enforcement (February 2016)
March 2020 Update
A federal judge has granted final approval to the comprehensive settlement agreement in the class action Doe v. State of Ohio lawsuit. The settlement reached will improve integration and academic achievement of Ohio students with disabilities.
Below, you can find links to the relevant press release and court documents for more information:
February 2020 Update
Disability Rights Ohio’s special education class action settlement took an important step towards final approval by the Court. A fairness hearing took place on February 11, 2020, and the following day the Magistrate Judge issued her strong recommendation for approval of the settlement agreement.
DRO, along with its partners from the Bazelon Center and the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson, negotiated this comprehensive settlement on behalf of a class of 260,000 Ohio students with disabilities to improve outcomes for those students. The settlement agreement requires the state to redesign its system of support for districts with specific measures to improve inclusion and academic achievement for students with disabilities.
At the fairness hearing on Monday, parents, students, and advocates gathered to provide their input on the class action settlement. In addition, many who could not be in attendance wrote letters of support to the Court.
Disability Rights Ohio would like to thank the class members—in particular, the Johnson, Tenda, and Stinson families— from around the state, who took the time to attend the hearing and share their stories and support for the settlement.
Judge Watson will now consider the recommendation from the Magistrate Judge, which is linked below.
November 2019 Update
On November 15th, the Honorable Judge Michael H. Watson granted preliminary approval a settlement agreement in this class action lawsuit. Disability Rights Ohio, the Judge Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson worked with the Ohio Department of Education to reach a settlement that will improve the State’s support for special education throughout Ohio, as well as support measurable improvements in student performance and inclusion for children with disabilities in 11 of Ohio’s school districts. The settlement will be in effect for five years.
Please see documents linked below to learn more about the preliminary settlement, class member definition, and the full press release:
Special Report on the Doe Case
Overview of the Doe v. State of Ohio Case
Disability Rights Ohio is engaged in a class action lawsuit to improve Ohio’s special education system for students with disabilities.
The lawsuit alleges that Ohio is violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to provide the necessary oversight and support to ensure that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
Under IDEA, children with disabilities are entitled to an education that incorporates the specialized services and instruction they need. This responsibility includes giving schools adequate resources, as well as comprehensive staff training and support.
Disability Rights Ohio is partnering with the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson on this class action initiative.
Why It Matters
Higher Incidence of Segregation
Under IDEA, students with disabilities have the right to receive their education in the “least restrictive environment.” However, a significant number of those students spend most of their school day in separate classrooms, cut off from students without disabilities. This segregation is particularly prevalent in large, high-poverty school districts. According to an analysis by Disability Rights Ohio, only 38.5% of students with disabilities in 11 districts examined learned in integrated settings, while 65.1% in all other districts were integrated.
The vast majority of students with disabilities can and do learn successfully in general education classrooms when their school district provides the right resources to serve and support them, such as assistive technology, a modified curriculum, or a classroom aide. Our analysis found that students with disabilities did substantially better on state tests if they were integrated into the general education classroom. For example, while only 40% of students with disabilities who spent their days in separate classrooms passed the graduation test, the passage rate increased to 80% for students who were integrated into the general education classroom.
Poor Educational Outcomes
After analyzing data from six school years, a national education expert found that the academic performance of segregated students in the 11 large, high-poverty Ohio districts is generally far lower than that of students with disabilities elsewhere in the state.
When segregated, children with disabilities often are not exposed to the general education curriculum, resulting in lower proficiency levels in core academic areas such as math and reading, and an absence of skills necessary after their school careers end. Socially, segregating children with disabilities from those without disabilities deprives all of them of the opportunity to learn from each other.
“The high number of segregated placements and low proficiency levels for such a large population of students with disabilities is very concerning,” says Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt, Director of Advocacy for Disability Rights Ohio. “If those students were getting the services and supports they needed to learn in general education classrooms, we believe they would more likely meet the minimum academic standards set by the State of Ohio, and be better prepared for the demands of life beyond school.”
What We Wanted
The goal for Doe v. State of Ohio is straightforward: Disability Rights Ohio wants an education system that delivers what the law requires: a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities. We believe that every student, regardless of their ability, should have the opportunity to learn in a nonsegregated environment, achieve the State of Ohio’s academic standards, and be prepared for a fulfilling and successful life after school. When Ohio’s school districts have the right resources, every child in our state will get a better education.
A settlement agreement was reached in Doe v. State of Ohio in November 2018. The settlement is expected over the next five years to improve the state's support for special education throughout Ohio and to create measurable improvements in student performance and inclusion for children with disabilities in 11 of Ohio's large urban school districts.
Among other things, the settlement requires special efforts by the state to improve test scores and rates of inclusion in 11 school districts - Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lima, East Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown and Zanesville - which currently have very poor academic outcomes for students with disabilities and high levels of segregation. DRO and the state will now work together to create a plan that will reverse those deficits. The plan will include effective strategies for improving literacy and other supports for students and classroom teachers, such as evidence-based behavior support. The settlement will also provide more help for students as they transition from high school to employment, further education, and independent living.
The settlement will not go into effect until after an agreement is reached on Plaintiffs' attorneys fees and the Court approves the agreement. The final decision on whether the settlement takes effect is the Court's.
Download a PDF version of this document
Flier (English): Special Education Parents: Disability Rights Ohio needs your help with a class action lawsuit
Flier (Spanish): Padres de Estudiantes con Discapacidades: Disability Rights Ohio necesita su ayuda con una demanda colectiva
FAQ (English) - Special Education: Doe v. State of Ohio Class Action Lawsuit
FAQ (Spanish) - Educación Especial: Doe vs. Estado de Ohio Demanda Colectiva