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

Monday, March 4, 2013

NJ Special Education Under Attack

Last week, I reported on proposed changes to the NJ administrative code that would shift the responsibility for special education case management away from full-time Child Study Teams. These changes would allow districts to fire case managers and either dump their caseloads on to teachers and other staff, or allow the privatization of special education case management.

This is a horrendous idea. Under the guise of "flexibility," special education students would no longer have a full-time, in-district case manager advocating for their needs. Parents of general education students should be as concerned about this as parents of special education students: the burdens of case management will undoubtedly take even more of a teacher's time away from actual instruction.

A coalition of teachers unions and special education advocates is calling for parents and teachers to make their voices heard to the NJ State Board of Education, which must approve these changes. Below is their take on one of the proposals, which comes from a white paper authored by the coalition that I received a few days ago.

Let's start with the code as it's currently written. The changes, proposed by Governor Christie's Education Transformation Task Force, are in brackets (omissions) and underlined (additions):

.J.A.C. § 6A:14-3.3(e) Location, referral and identification 
"When a preschool- [age] or school-age student is referred for an initial evaluation to determine eligibility for special education programs and services under this chapter, [a meeting] at least one member of the child study team, the parent and the student's regular education teacher [of the student] who is knowledgeable about the student's educational performance or, if there is no teacher of the student, a teacher who is knowledgeable about the school district's programs, shall [be convened] meet within 20 calendar days (excluding school holidays, but not summer vacation) of receipt of the written request. This group shall determine whether an evaluation is warranted and, if [warranted] so, shall determine the nature and scope of the evaluation, according to N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.4(a). The team may also determine [that] an evaluation is not warranted and, if so, determine other appropriate action. The parent shall be provided written notice of the determination(s), which includes a request for consent to evaluate, if an evaluation will be conducted, according to N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.3. Parents shall be permitted to participate in the meeting by telephone at their request."
The clear intent of this change is to reduce the number of staff at a referral meeting. Why? Here's the Task Force's reasoning [emphasis mine]:
The Department and State Board should amend this regulation to reduce the number of school district personnel whose attendance is required at identification meetings. The meetings determine whether an evaiuation is warranted, and if so, what assessments should be conducted. The amendments would align State and federal special education requirements and reduce the burden on school districts and charter schools of over-prescriptive regulations. Although not all members of the child study team would be required to participate in the identification meeting, the attending team members would have the opportunity to seek input from other members prior to the meeting. 
Amendments to N.J.A.C. § 6A:14-3.3(e) are also proposed to allow parents to participate in the identification meeting by telephone, if they so request. This amendment would add flexibility and ease the burden districts bear to schedule and hold such meetings in a timely manner.
Do you notice something about the proposed change? The rationale isn't that it will make services better for special education students or give parents better information; the purpose of these changes is to make life easier for school districts.

Indeed, this is exactly the coalition's objection [emphasis mine]:

IDEA is clear that parents are members of the IEP team and are to be fully informed of all matters related to their children's special education. The rights currently in place should not be weakened. A multi-disciplinary team by definition has a varied focus and point of view. To remove a member of the team from the process removes a critical facet of the process. It weakens the information shared. This is the parents' initial contact with the system and in many cases; parents require shepherding through the process. They need to be exposed to the varying points of view, role, and focus each team member brings to the process so they are better informed. Exclusion of any team member removes that perspective and leads to an incomplete picture of the student. The IDEA regulations (20 C.F.R. §§300.9 and 300.300) require that parents are given the opportunity to make an informed decision. Consent must be based on complete information about the student. These changes interfere with parental rights and their ability to give knowing consent.
On page 3 of their Final Report, the Education Effectiveness Task Force's clearly states the objective  of their recommendations is to "...serve our students better." Well, that doesn't seem to be the goal here; in fact, the stated goal is to "ease the burden" on districts - not students, parents, or staff.

It does not "serve our students better" to diminish participation of staff and parents in assessing a child's special education needs. These changes should not be allowed to go through.

Call, email, write, testify, or otherwise let the NJ State BOE hear your concerns. 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 Day at 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.
The NJDOE is already assaulting the needs of special education children through its policies on charter schools. The State Board should not add injury to the NJDOE's insult.


Ken Houghton said...

"If you are able to take a personal day, consider attending NJEA’s Lobby Day at 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/

That would be difficult at this time. (Fortunately, your previous posting on this got at least one group to gather last Wednesday to be certain they hit last Friday's deadline.)

Rod viquez said...

Of course that is a HSPA day...

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