Eliminates restriction on placement of special education students in sectarian schools.

NJEA opposes S-1929 (Weinberg, Beck).  This legislation would allow special needs students to be placed in sectarian or religious-oriented schools.

Placement of a student with disabilities in a sectarian setting could prove inappropriate for some of the following reasons:

  • There is no requirement that a sectarian school employ fully certified, highly qualified staff.  In fact, many of them do not even employ a Child Study Team (CST). 
  • Sectarian schools are not obligated to meet the same standards that public schools must.  Our special needs students should not receive less than their regular education student counterparts.
  • In order to receive the services to which they are entitled, the student could be placed in an environment where they are taught religious views that are diametrically opposed to those of their family.
  • Taxpayer funds will be used to support religious education since the student’s district of residency will be responsible to pay the cost of sending the student to the sectarian school.

N.J.S.18A:46-14 is quite clear in its intent with requiring that our special education students are educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  When the child’s home school is not able to provide the program as required in the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a full continuum of alternative placement options is listed in 6A:14-4(b).   Considering that New Jersey is highly regarded for its special education services, it seems unlikely that a child study team could find that a sectarian school would offer a better program than all the other alternatives listed.

Our special needs students are potentially our most vulnerable population.  Many of our students with disabilities that are possible candidates for out-of-district placements lack the communication skills and sometimes the cognitive skills necessary to communicate inconsistencies in the delivery of services contained in their IEPs.  It is critical that there be specific safeguards in place that will ensure their academic, social and emotional success.

NJEA acknowledges that there will be times when some of our special needs students might need to be placed in an out-of-district program.  However, using public funds to send these students to sectarian schools is not appropriate.  Taxpayer funds should be dedicated to public schools to develop and enhance the programs and expertise that would best serve our special needs students.  The State should ensure that school districts have the necessary funding to do just that.

NJEA urges you to vote no on S-1929.