Proposed regulations threaten special education quality

DOE plan would harm NJ’s most vulnerable learners

Published on Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Commissioner Chris Cerf and the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) continue to push for radical revisions of the state’s special education regulations.  Educators, parents and special education advocacy organizations who have studied the proposal are sounding the alarm, noting that the changes would harm special education students and make special education teachers’ and guidance counselors’ jobs more difficult.

"It’s simple: if these regulation changes go through, teachers’ and counselors’ attention will be even further divided and students will suffer."

For the first time, the DOE’s proposal would encourage districts to assign special education teachers and guidance counselors significant additional duties as case managers for students with individualized education programs (IEPs).  Currently, that critical duty is handled by child study team members with special training in case management.  Under the DOE’s proposal, that responsibility would be shifted to teachers and counselors already handling full-time workloads.  That would result in those newly assigned case managers having less time to devote to their students.  Additionally, they will be less able to respond to the needs of students and families whose cases they manage than the current child study team members.

Another proposed change to the regulations would allow districts to take 90 days to evaluate and properly place incoming special education students, a process that must be completed in 30 days under current regulations.  Additionally, districts would be allowed to seek waivers to indefinitely disregard the class-size restrictions in the special education code, without even being required to inform parents ahead of time that they intend to do so.  Both changes would deprive students of the opportunity to learn in the environment deemed most appropriate for their success.

NJEA president Barbara Keshishian issued the following statement, urging the DOE not to rush forward with its ill-conceived restructuring of special education regulations.

"Every child has a right to a thorough and efficient public education.  For students with special needs, that means we need to work even harder to provide the best environment and the support necessary for them to succeed.  Under the guise of providing flexibility to districts, these regulations will dramatically diminish the quality of education students receive.

“The child’s needs must trump the district’s desire for additional flexibility. These misguided proposals put the convenience of districts first. That is unacceptable."

“Special education case management is an important and time-consuming task.  Effective case management requires thoroughly understanding each student’s specific needs and ensuring those needs are met appropriately.  It’s a hard enough job for dedicated child study team members.  Pushing that workload onto already overburdened special education teachers and guidance counselors ensures that they will have less time for their students and will lack the time necessary to adequately fulfill their responsibilities as case managers.  It’s simple: if these regulation changes go through, teachers’ and counselors’ attention will be even further divided and students will suffer.

“The other proposed changes will have similar negative effects.  It is unconscionable to allow districts to put off providing an appropriate placement and needed services for 90 days.  No student already facing exceptional challenges can afford to lose a third of a school year waiting for the district to act.  And allowing districts to obtain waivers to indefinitely disregard class-size restrictions contained in the special education code is inappropriate as well.  Special education regulations and IEPs are intended to ensure that students get the services they need, not just the ones the district finds convenient. They certainly aren’t suggestions for the district to follow or ignore on a whim.

“The child’s needs must trump the district’s desire for additional flexibility.  These misguided proposals put the convenience of districts first.  That is unacceptable.

“Gov. Christie recently signed legislation that calls for the formation of a Special Education Task Force.  That group should be allowed to meet and make recommendations for ways to improve how we deliver special education services so that districts can operate more efficiently without harming children.  The current proposals are poorly conceived, will hurt students and should not be allowed to move forward.  Instead of rushing to make changes with devastating consequences for children, let the task force do its job.”

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