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Special Education

Reducing Litigation, Early Identification of Disabilities

Closing the achievement gap in DC between special education students and other a major focus of DC Appleseed’s education efforts. We are also emphasizing early recognition of a child’s disabilities.

Our initial special education project, begun in 2002 at the request of the school system, grew out of concern about the high cost of litigating numerous law suits brought by dissatisfied parents. While our initial efforts involved students in public schools, we have also worked on behalf of students who are making transitions into or out of non-public schools.  Our project helped to significantly reduce litigation costs. because we were able to improve communication among parents, educators, and students.

The earlier a child’s disabilities can be identified, the more successful he or she will be. Fortunately, DC has the Strong Start Early Intervention Program, which works with DC families, childcare providers, and medical professionals to identify children under the age of three who have, or are at risk of having, developmental disabilities or delays. Appleseed is involved in research that is exploring the impact of enhanced training in the identification of disabilities for early childhood education teachers.

When they reach their pre-teen and teenage years, special education students need additional resources to support their development. Recognizing this, in 2005, DC Appleseed became the catalyst for creating School Talk, an organization for meeting the needs of older special education students. SchoolTalk provides a youth leadership program and services that help special education students make the transition to adult life. It also offers a flexible and creative approach to discipline through its restorative justice program.

Resources for Older Students

In 2019, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) undertook a comprehensive assessment of special education in DC. This assessment included identification of the challenges in special education and a commitment to do a better job of meeting the needs of special education students. Since then, DC Appleseed has been collaborating with OSSE on improving special education in the District. For example, we are identifying best practices in other cities and states and exploring possibilities for putting them to work in DC.

Collaboration on Improvement


Staff Contact:

Neil Richardson

Pro Bono Partners:

DLA Piper

Gary Ratner

King & Spalding LLP

Steptoe & Johnson

Appleseed’s advocacy will help close the

achievement gap between children in

special education and other students.

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