LEWISTON — The U.S. Justice Department reached a settlement this week with the Lewiston Public Schools aimed at protecting educational rights for students with disabilities and those learning English.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maine said in a statement Thursday that the agreement will end the district’s “systemic and discriminatory practice” of excluding students from attending school for full days because of behaviors related to their disabilities.

The settlement also will require that the district “provide equal educational opportunities” to students for whom English is not their primary language.

The department conducted its investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1974 Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 in response to a complaint lodged in 2016 by Disability Rights Maine, a nonprofit advocacy group whose mission is to ensure autonomy, inclusion, equality and access for people with disabilities in Maine, according to its website. Other groups that coordinated in the complaint were the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Kids Legal at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic and Maine School of Law.

The department’s investigation revealed that the district routinely shortened the school day for students with disabilities without considering their individual needs or exploring supports to keep them in school for the full day, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s statement.

Contributing to the district’s “overreliance” on “abbreviated” school days was the district’s lack of training for staff on how to properly respond to students’ disability-related behavior, the statement said.


Moreover, the district compounded the harm to students by often failing to provide them with instruction or behavior support during the time that they were out of school, the statement reads.

The department’s investigation also showed that the district failed to provide appropriate services to its English learner students, many of whom remained in the district’s English learner program for years without ever becoming fluent in English, according to the statement.

As a result, many English learners, including immigrants and refugees from Somalia, Angola and other African countries, faced significant academic setbacks that can have lasting consequences.

“Students with disabilities and students who are learning English need additional support and services in school – not additional barriers to learning,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said.

“Giving students with disabilities half the education they are entitled to is unacceptable,” she said. “Failing to properly serve children who are learning English limits their opportunities for success in their current school and beyond. The department is committed to enforcing the law to make sure schools meet the needs and respect the rights of all their students.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Donald E. Clark for the District of Maine said: “We are encouraged that the Lewiston Public Schools cooperated with our investigation, recognized the opportunity to improve and are committed to the successful implementation of our agreement.”


He said his office is looking forward to working with the district “to improve educational opportunities for all students.”

The investigation was conducted by attorneys from the Civil Rights Division in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine, which wrote in its statement that the Civil Rights Division considers enforcement of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act in schools and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act to be top priorities.

Lewiston Public Schools Superintendent K. Jake Langlais wrote in a statement that the settlement represents a “real opportunity.”

Although some stages of this process occurred before he came aboard to head up the district, Langlais said, “We have found growth and success through the work that has happened over the last several years. I attribute the success of, and improvement of, our programming for students to our great staff, great school leadership, and support from our community.”

Langlais said the recent agreement, coupled with the district’s ongoing efforts, “will bring our student instructional support to a new level.”

Much of the agreement is centered around reduced student days and instructional models, he said. “Over time, Lewiston Public Schools has made strides in our programming. We have turned the corner on what we are going to become. We have nested special education programs for students thriving with autism, functional life skills, and day treatment settings. We have changed a number of practices, instructional approaches with abbreviated days, and language learners that have been cited by others as model programs.”


The school department has “adopted and built in professional learning that will benefit all our students, continue to grow in social emotional/restorative practices and, in our budget process, we grew the number of staff and professional learning opportunities to improve reading, language skills, and comprehension that will better serve all our students.”

Langlais said those models and teaching strategies have been studied and are “considered best practices. I look forward to the results of this work. We will be gathering data so we can reflect on our practices and continuously improve.”

Atlee Reilly, managing attorney, education advocacy, assistive technology and juvenile justice at Disability Rights Maine on Friday praised Langlais for adopting a positive perspective.

“I think it’s really heartening that he framed this as an opportunity and a way that they can continuously improve,” Reilly said. “I think that’s just the right frame around it and I hope that’s true. And I hope that they work over the next three years with the Department of Justice to further rectify — my understanding is maybe they’ve already taken some steps — but further address these issues and come out stronger.”

In a statement, Reilly wrote that he hoped the settlement would send a message to all Maine schools.

“This agreement is an important recognition of the harm and absurdity of abbreviated school day placements, Reilly wrote. “Schools across Maine have been responding to clear indications of student need by offering those students less time in school. This makes no sense and, as DOJ recognized, can often result in discrimination against students with disabilities. This practice should end today.”

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