I thought I would share this with all of you, to give those of you in similar situations some idea of what approach we are taking with Colton's school district.
Worked on this press release yesterday and today, and I was waiting on some of the others in the group for their input, so I think I missed our local paper's deadline to be published tomorrow. The reporter thinks he may be able to get it in (hope so) - we would love to have it in the papers before Christmas break!!
One of the other PASE members (do you like the name?) came up with an awesome statement for some of the bigger papers - more on that later.
Here is the statement, with my personal notes...
The Northern Burlington County Parents Advocating for Special Education group (PASE) is hopeful that the many problems regarding the Mansfield Township School District special education program have been heard and the significance of these issues has been noted by the district board of education. We expect that the school board will cooperate with the parents in promptly formulating a plan of action. PASE is especially confident in the school board president, with her vast knowledge and expertise of special education. The group is looking forward to working collaboratively with the interim superintendent and the school board to ensure that (1) the district is accountable for any instances of noncompliance with state regulations and (2) appropriate action is taken to avoid noncompliance in the future.
NOTE:This was me being positive to start the statement :)
One of the principal concerns consistently expressed to PASE by many parents include the child study team’s improper and illegal development and implementation of individualized education plans (IEPs) and 504 plans, in violation of state regulations. An IEP is a legal document that formalizes the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) Act for a child with disabilities and must be adhered to in its entirety.
NOTE:In Colton's case, doctors and therapists along with autism specialists have instructed us that Colton needs a full day program including having exposure to typical peers ("least restrictive environment"), in addition to some home behavioral programming. By NJ law, individuals diagnosed with autism are to receive 25 hours MINIMUM per week of programming and services. Colton receives 8 hours per week in a preschool disabled class with limited socialization, limited academic programming, and no exposure to non-disabled peers. Basically it is a segregated, glorified day care for disabled kids, with no insturction or attention paid to preparing these children for a transition to kindergarten in the public school. The district prefers to keep disabled children, including those with autism, downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc, out of the general classroom (although law requires that if the disability does not impede on other children's ability to learn, these kids should be included), and actually makes them board separate buses at times different than the "typical" kids in addition to making them be in the back of the school with no interaction with the other kids (who would be perfect role models!). I could go on, but I won't... :)
Another concern is that due to unacceptable turnover of related services personnel (6 of the 9 special education personnel that have left the district in the past year are therapists) and insufficient staffing, parents are being sent out-of-district for services to try to “catch up” on numerous hours of missed, but required, in-school sessions. For example, the parents are to drive their child 30 minutes to the school-approved speech therapist in Marlton, during working hours, for each missed speech session (up to 21 sessions in some cases). These speech and other related services are to be provided in school during the school day as stated in a child’s IEP, just as math is to be provided in the typical classroom.
NOTE: Imagine you are a parent of a non-disabled student, and your school district has gotten rid of almost all the math teachers by forcing them out or they have left due to being fearful of losing their teaching license for ethics violations. For three months your child does not receive math instruction at all. Then, you receive a letter telling you to make up for no math instruction you must go out-of-district. Not only out-of-district, but you must go to a math teacher that is 30 minutes away. You are responsible for making the appointments (the math teacher works weekdays, 9-4) and driving your child to the math lessons. Since you have missed 21 30 minute math sessions, you will need to drive to this math teacher 21 times to make up for lost instruction. Yes, you now have to drive your student during the hours of 9-4 30 minutes away so that they can receive math that is they should have received in school 21 times. Kinda sucky, huh?
These and the other problems surfacing within this district’s special education program are very serious, and include not only district-wide noncompliance issues but also recurring procedural violations. A timely resolution is imperative to avoid further delays in appropriate services and to prevent further regression in these children with special needs.
NOTE: Unfortunately for us, Colton has regressed significantly as has many of the kids in the program. Why not help these kids now, just as the law states? Why wait until they are older and don't have the ability to improve and / or have even more significant issues?
<SIGH> Sorry. Back to your regular scheduled program