I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, February 28, 2013

URGENT: The Assault On NJ's Special Needs Kids

There are times when the people who run our education system do something so awful that I can hardly believe it:
URGENT: State Board of Education is fast-tracking changes in the special education regulations that would, if enacted, allow teachers and other certified staff to be designated as case managers of students with disabilities.   Unless we intervene, these changes will be acted on at the Board’s MARCH 6 meeting.  Please write to the Board IMMEDIATELY!
Let me explain why every New Jersey teacher and parent - even if you aren't the parent of a special needs child - should be appalled at this:

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every child is required to receive special services if a need is identified for that child. The plan for identified students is called an Individualized Education Program (IEP): it specifies the services the child should receive, the accommodations that the school should make for the child, the goals for the child, and so on.

In New Jersey, the responsibility for identifying children with special needs and making sure those needs are fulfilled falls to the case manager, who is a member of a school's Child Study Team (CST). The duties of the case manager are clearly spelled out in state code:
6A:14-3.2 Case manager

(a) A case manager shall be assigned to a student when it is determined that an initial evaluation shall be conducted. Child study team members or speech-language specialists when they act as members of the child study team shall be designated and serve as the case manager for each student with a disability.

(b) The case manager shall coordinate the development, monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of the IEP. The case manager shall facilitate communication between home and school and shall coordinate the annual review and reevaluation process.

(c) The case manager shall:

1. Be knowledgeable about the student's educational needs and program;

2. Be knowledgeable about special education procedures and procedural safeguards;

3. Have an apportioned amount of time for case management responsibilities; and

4. Be responsible for transition planning.

Here's what the NJ state Board of Education (NJBOE) proposes; the changes are underlined:

(a)            A case manager shall be assigned to a student when it is determined that an initial evaluation shall be conducted. Child study team members[ or], speech-language specialists[ when they act as members of the child study team], teachers, and any other licensed staff member with appropriate knowledge about special education requirements, services and programs available for students with disabilities shall be designated and serve as the case manager for each student with a disability. 
The New Jersey state Board of Education wants to give districts the option to fire Child Study Team members and have teachers take over the management of special education cases.

I understand that we are all looking for ways to save money, but this is perhaps the most egregious cost-cutting scheme imaginable: the NJBOE wants school districts to balance their budgets on the backs of our most vulnerable and needy students.

Case managers spend hours testing, coordinating services, working with parents, and - most importantly, perhaps - holding districts accountable for providing the services that special needs children must, by law, receive. It is outrageous that the NJBOE wants to move this critical function over to "any staff member with appropriate knowledge." What is "appropriate"? Why won't the NJBOE clearly delineate this?

If this regulation is adopted, it will be nothing more than an excuse to fire CST members at-will. Without question, it will gravely affect districts with greater numbers of at-risk kids, but it will also severely impact every district in the state. All of you parents with special needs children know what a big deal this is: imagine if the person you've been working with all throughout your child's school career was suddenly fired and replaced by a teacher who already has a full workload.

And if you don't have a special needs child, think about how your child's classroom teacher will be affected when the responsibilities for overseeing IEPs are dumped into her lap. Do you think she will have time to actually teach when she has to test and fill out paperwork and counsel parents and coordinate services?

This needs to stop, and it needs to stop right now. NJEA suggests these actions:

  • It is extremely important that we contact our state board members regarding this issue now!  We need your help in writing and generating letters to state board members so that they can understand the detrimental impact these regulations will have on our special education students. 
  • If you are able to take a personal day, consider attending NJEA’s Lobby Dayat the State Board of Education Meeting on March 6.  If you would like to testify, register by noon of March 1, at http://education.state.nj.us/sboe/
  • Contact your legislators to let them know your concerns.  Although the state legislature does not have any say over the regulatory process, legislators should be aware of the changes that will impact students all across New Jersey.
But it's not just the teachers union that's concerned: SPAN, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, is also sounding the alarm, among other stakeholders. This is that serious.

Every parent and teacher in New Jersey needs to contact the NJBOE immediately and let them know this is totally unacceptable. I'll have more on the NJBOE and this deplorable action soon - stay tuned.

2 comments:

Rebel Speducator said...

In some places, special educators have already been relieved of their responsibility to hold districts accountable for providing the services that special needs children must, by law, receive.

Scott Gerson said...

I am a school social worker in New Jersey and all of my "very involved" parents were not aware of the proposed changes. You can view the white paper opposition by going to the link

http://www.spanadvocacy.org/www.spanadvocacy.org/policyadvocacy/2013Chapter14Edtransformation

and then click on "Chapter 14 Transformation"