A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Settlement Agreements of IDEA Cases in the OAL Are Disclosable Under OPRA

By: Angela Reading, Law Clerk

Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

On May 18, 2022, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued a published decision in the case of C.E. v. Elizabeth Public School District, in which the Court held that settlement agreements resolving Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) disputes that have been docketed in the Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”) and final decisions incorporating or pertaining to those settlement agreements are subject to disclosure under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”).  

Prior to this decision, boards of education typically deemed all special education settlement agreements as confidential student records exempt from disclosure under OPRA. In fact, on July 17, 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court in L.R. v. Camden City Public School District held that settlement agreements with parents of special education students are not subject to release, absent a court order, even if that document has been stripped of personally identifiable information.  

In this decision, the Appellate Division distinguished L.R. and held it did not apply because the L.R. case did not involve settlements before the OAL, and the IDEA was not at issue. Instead, the Appellate Division determined that IDEA regulations governed.

The Appellate Division held that despite special education agreements being student records, when defendants, such as a public school district, settle matters involving IDEA claims in the OAL, these documents become judicial filings and are subject to a “presumption” of public access. The court explained that N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.7 designates the OAL to hear special education complaints under the IDEA. Those settlement decisions are then incorporated into a final decision approving the settlement. Thus, under federal IDEA law, 34 C.F.R. § 300.513(d)(2), these decisions, which are judicial filings, must be available to the public after removing any student-identifying information. 

In practice, this precedential Appellate Division decision establishes that to comply with OPRA, a board of education must redact a student’s personally identifiable information before disclosing a special education settlement agreement incorporated into a decision at the OAL. However, agreements resolving special education disputes before the matter is transmitted to OAL, such as mediation agreements or resolution agreements, remain student records exempt from OPRA disclosures under the holding in L.R. v. Camden City Public School District.  

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About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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