Trenton – The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Steven Oroho and Senator Robert Singer that would create a dedicated cadre of Administrative Law judges to handle special education cases.
“Students with disabilities too often are left in unfortunate positions and do not get the educational services they need for months due to continuing lengthy delays in court cases,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “This bill would establish a dedicated panel of judges who have the understanding and experience to review and handle special education cases. These judges will be able to expedite hearings to ensure that students with disabilities are able to receive the services and education they need in a timely manner.”
“The unique challenges of educating students with special needs lead to disagreements between concerned parents and school districts that often end up in court,” said Senator Oroho (R-Morris/Sussex/Warren). “Long delays only add to the frustration and can interfere with the development and learning opportunities of children. The unit established within the Division of Administrative Law by this legislation would increase efficiency and help all parties by reaching more timely decisions and resolutions.”
“There is no question New Jersey needs to do a better job addressing special education conflicts,” said Senator Singer (R-Monmouth/Ocean). “It is unacceptable for people to have to wait so long to get answers impacting the education of a child with special needs. With regular review of the data demonstrating the effectiveness of this strategy, we will know if there are enough judges assigned to the unit and how we can continue to improve the process.”
The bill, S-2160, would require the director and chief administrative law judge of the Office of Administrative Law to create a unit consisting of judges who have an expertise in special education law. The number of administrative law judges in the special education unit would be proportional to the number and complexity of special education cases referred to the office. The legislation was a recommendation of the bipartisan Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup set up by Senator Sweeney and co-chaired by Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and Oroho.
Under the bill, the director and chief administrative law judge would prepare an annual report to the Governor and to the Legislature. The report would include statistics on the number of special education cases referred to the special education unit and the average time to resolve the cases.
This act would take effect on the first day of the ninth month following enactment. The Director and Chief could take any action needed to enact the goals of the bill.
The bill passed by a 38-0 vote.