On July 21, 2014, a U.S. District Court confirmed a previous decision issued by the Office of Administrative Law regarding Millburn School District’s failures with respect to an autistic child, raising concerns about this top-rated school district’s willingness to serve its most vulnerable students.
The Administrative Law decision was issued In December 2012, after an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) heard over 22 days of live testimony from 16 witnesses and evaluated over 80 pieces of evidence. In her decision, the ALJ was very critical of several of Millburn’s special education professionals and its ABA program.
For example, the ALJ describes serious failures on the part of two of the district’s seasoned professionals who did not suspect autism even though they observed that the child had the same severe communication delays and maladaptive behaviors that are hallmarks of autism.
In addition, the ALJ criticized the school district’s ABA classrooms. ABA is an instructional approached proven effective for autistic children. Relying on the opinions of two highly regarded autism experts, the ALJ determined that Millburn’s inadequate administration of its ABA program rendered the instruction ineffective (the child of the parents who sued was not in Millburn’s ABA program at the time the program was observed by experts, but other children with autism were in the program).
Millburn appealed the ALJ’s decision to the U.S. District Court, and on July 21, 2014, the District Court affirmed the ALJ’s decision in all respects. Before siding entirely with the parents, the District Court considered the credibility attributed to the testimony provided by the school district’s professionals and the school district’s own documents in evidence, which did not support their testimony. The District Court’s 21-page decision can be found here. The ALJ’s 87-page decision can be found here.
According to a decision issued by US District Court Judge Kevin McNulty, the Sparta School District committed a procedural error by relying exclusively on the “Severe Discrepancy” model in determining a student’s eligibility for special education services.
Parents of B.M. sued the Sparta Township Board of Ed (the “District”) after a 2009 decision by the District’s child study team (“CST”) that B.M. did not meet the eligibility criteria for a specific learning disability. In making its decision, the CST disregarded numerous assessments, evaluations, observations and professional recommendations that contained insight into B.M.’s persistent academic difficulties. Instead, citing District policy, the CST relied exclusively on a numerical comparison of standardized scores received on only 2 of the assessments, and determined that a “severe discrepancy” did not exists.
The NJ District Court held that, based on state and federal regulations promulgated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), severe discrepancy “may not be the sole determinant of whether a child has a SLD…Rather, a school must base its determination on all of its assessments of a child…and on careful, documented consideration of parent input, teacher input, test results, and other information concerning the child’s health and background.”
In formulating its opinion, the Court offered an excellent analysis of the eligibility determination process required under IDEA. The full opinion can be found here. Analysis of the eligibility process begins at the bottom of page 2.
The Delran Township School District will adopt a service animal policy and pay a $10,000 fine to the Complainant in order to resolve a Justice Department Investigation. The Complainant alleged that the school district violated the ADA by refusing to allow her son, a student with autism and encephalopathy, to have his service dog in school or at school-related activities. The Justice Department’s full findings of fact and the actions to be taken by the school district can be found here.
Recommended by Carolee Adams at M-SPEC’s information meeting “What Will Common Core Mean for Your Child”
The Common Core is Tough on Kids With Special Needs
by Katharine Beals, The Atlantic
February 21, 2014
PARENTS WILL RECEIVE A SURVEY BY MAIL IN MAY FROM THE NJ DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, OFFICE OF SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS. Parents are encouraged to complete and return the survey as soon as possible.
Millburn has been randomly chosen by the NJ Department of Education to participate in a survey in order to allow parents of students with disabilities the opportunity to determine how well Millburn is supporting parent involvement in our children’s educational programs. Survey results will be used to inform state and local improvement strategies, as needed.
The survey is being conducted as part of a federal requirement pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Annually, the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs mails a survey in English and Spanish to parents of students with disabilities in a randomly selected sample of districts in the state. Eventually, all parents of students with disabilities in every district in New Jersey will have had an opportunity to respond to the survey.
Individual responses to the survey are anonymous and confidential. Parents’ names and children’s names will not appear on the survey or on any report that is generated as a result of the survey. Because the information from all surveys must be summarized for each district as well as for the entire state, there will be a tracking number on each survey to identify the district, not the student, associated with each survey. A pre-paid, self-addressed return envelope will be enclosed with the survey. The envelope will be addressed to a private agency that will scan and summarize the information on each survey.
The NJ State Performance Plan/Annual Performance, to be completed each year on February 1st, will report the results statewide. The results for each participating district will be publicly reported as part of the special education district profile during the next school year in accordance with federal regulations.
Additional information for parents about the survey, including the list of districts selected to participate this year, can be found on the NJDOE website.
Millburn-Short Hills Special Education Committee (M-SPEC) member, Jean Pasternak, was appointed by Governor Christie to serve on the State’s Task Force on Improving Special Education for Public School Students. Jean served as the president of M-SPEC from 2009-2011, and served as member of the Millburn Township Board of Education from 2011 to 2013.
The task force was established through bipartisan legislation signed in March 2013 to study various issues related to improving the funding, delivery and effectiveness of special education programs and services in New Jersey’s public schools. The task force includes the Commissioner of Education, ex officio, or a designee, and 16 members appointed by the Governor. The following appointments were published earlier this week:
1. Parent/Guardian of a Public School Student Receiving Special Education Services – The Honorable John J. Driscoll (Paramus, Bergen)
2. Parent/Guardian of a Student Attending a Private School for Students with Disabilities – Jean Pasternak (Short Hills, Essex)
3. Public School Special Education Teacher – Kristin P. Hennessy (Point Pleasant Beach, Ocean)
4. Director of Special Education Services for a School District – Kerri Lee Walsifer (Sea Girt, Monmouth)
5. ARC of New Jersey Representative – Kevin Sturges (Annandale, Hunterdon)
6. New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities Representative – Deborah M. Spitalnik, Ph.D. (Stockton, Hunterdon)
7. New Jersey Parent-Teacher Association Representative – Catherine M. Lindenbaum (Brick, Ocean)
8. New Jersey Association of School Administrators Representative –Kevin W. Ahearn, Ph.D. (Matawan, Monmouth)
9. New Jersey School Boards Association Representative – Donna M. Kaye, Esq. (West Windsor, Mercer)
10. New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association Representative – Barbara E. Frascella, Ph.D. (Allentown, Monmouth)
11. New Jersey Association of School Business Officials Representative – Corinne Steinmetz (Phillipsburg, Warren)
12. Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey Representative – Margaret Kinsell (Browns Mills, Burlington)
13. Garden State Coalition of Schools Representative – Lynne Strickland (Rumson, Monmouth)
14. Association for Schools and Agencies for the Handicapped Representative – Chris Sarandoulias (Medford, Burlington)
15. New Jersey Education Association Representative – Marie Blistan (Harrisonville, Gloucester)
16. American Federation of Teachers Representative – Princess Hogue (Newark, Essex)