M-SPEC Member Appointed to NJ Task Force on Improving Special Education

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)


Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act

The ABLE Act would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. The bill aims to ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing, and transportation. The bill would supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurances, the Medicaid program, the supplemental security income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources.


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Bill to Expand & Fund Support Network for Mothers of Special Needs Children Gets Final Legislative Ok

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Celeste Riley, Gabriela Mosquera and Pamela Lampitt to officially expand and fund an innovative support network for mothers and families of children with special needs received final legislative approval by both houses on Thursday.

The bill (A-4339), approved 77-0-1 by the Assembly, would officially establish the “Mom2Mom Peer Support Program” helpline to receive and respond to calls statewide from mothers of children with special needs and their families.

“The issues facing mothers of children with special needs are truly unique and no one understands them better than a mother who has already faced these same challenges,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “It’s no wonder that this program has been well-received in its short inception. This bill will ensure that it continues to operate and expand to meet the needs of parents throughout New Jersey who face these unique challenges.”

The program was initially established by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in the fall of 2010 to care for the mental and emotional health of mothers of special needs children in Essex, Union and Morris Counties. With the support of the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), the program recently expanded this year to serve all 21 counties.

“Sometimes the best support you can get is from someone who knows exactly what you’re going through,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Based on the early success of this program, that seems to be the case for moms throughout New Jersey who are raising children with special needs. This program deserves to be continued and expanded.”

The helpline is now administered by DCF in conjunction with University Behavioral HealthCare of Rutgers, the State University.

The bill would provide for the training of helpline staff, the establishment of a list of credentialed resources and behavioral health care providers throughout the state to ensure that mothers, children, and their families receive ongoing counseling and a continuum of care in New Jersey, and consultation with various state agencies to ensure the quality of the assistance provided by the helpline program.

“When it comes to such a challenging area, nothing trumps peer counsel and support,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Who better to help moms juggle their daily demands while meeting the unique needs of their child than another mom who has experienced it all already? This support is invaluable.”

In order to ensure that the program continues to operate, the bill would also provide an annual appropriation sufficient for the maintenance of the helpline.

The Mom2Mom Peer program offers live, 24/7 call service answered by a mom peer or mental health specialist through the University Behavioral HealthCare Access Center and on-call clinicians. Live chat is also available through the website mom2mom.us.com. Since its inception in 2010, over 29,000 contacts have been made.

Among the top ten issues reported by mothers calling the helpline are: family/parenting, school stressors, depression/mood disorder, child mental health, anxiety/phobias, marital/couples, legal, developmental disability, medical/somatic compensation.

The measure was also approved 34-0 by the Senate. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.

Garden State Coalition of Schools 2013-2014 Focal Points- Reducing Special Education is a Priority

Garden State Coalition of Schools


Approved by the GSCS Board of Trustees: September 25, 2013

Special Education

1. Are per student instructional costs in special education going up while per student instructional costs in regular education are going down, and if so, how long can this trend be sustained?
2. Additional evaluations/testing @ district expense—more than before.
3. Private schools for the disabled—cost controls needed:
a. Budgets are not capped (public schools have a 2% revenue cap)
b. Salaries are not capped (public schools have caps)
c. Questionable practices (nepotism, paying rent/usage fees to themselves and counting it as a cost, litigating disallowed costs, etc.)
4. Extraordinary aide is flat, but costs are going up.
5. What happened to the state task force on special education?
6. Why are state standards more costly than federal standards?
7. What can be done about the enormous, unrestrained costs of litigation?
8. ***IMPORTANT: This is NOT about reducing services to students! It is only about reducing costs.

Charter Schools

1. Paying the charter tuition off the top of a public school’s budget does not reduce that district’s costs by an equal amount.
2. Conversions of existing schools (e.g., parochial schools) to charters does not avoid the unforeseen and unbudgeted financial hit on the local public school.
3. Virtual charter schools are virtually unregulated.


1. Districts are struggling to absorb the cost of PARCC.
2. Districts may not even have the infrastructure capacity to conduct all this additional testing in a safe, secure and reliable manner.
3. There is an opportunity cost involved when all this testing is added together with all the increased assessments required in the new teacher evaluation system.


New Legislation Threatens Legal Advocacy For Persons Receiving Mental Health Services

Congressman Tim Murphy (PA) has introduced legislation, HR3717, currently co-sponsored by Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey, among others. While the bill is entitled “The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013,” one section of the bill would limit access to legal advocacy for people with mental illness and seriously limit the ability of protection and advocacy organizations, such as Disability Rights New Jersey, to advocate on behalf of people with mental illness.

Specifically, the bill slashes 85% of the funding for the Protection and Advocacy for People with Mental Illness program from $37 million to $5 million. In addition, the bill places significant restrictions on the work protection and advocacy organizations may perform, including prohibiting DRNJ from working on systemic issues and filing class action lawsuits, as well as preventing DRNJ from working on any issues other than abuse and neglect in the institutional setting. If enacted, this would mean that DRNJ would no longer be able to assist people with mental illness in employment discrimination matters, housing concerns, healthcare disputes, or obtaining appropriate educational services.

You can help make sure this does not happen by calling your Congressional Representative and asking your colleagues, friends and family members to do the same. Tell your member of Congress “please do not co-sponsor Representative Murphy’s,the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013.” Contact Congressman Lance and ask that he oppose the defunding of the protection and advocacy system. You can reach the House switchboard at 202-224-3121 or go to http://www.house.gov to find your member’s webpage.

Disability Rights New Jersey | 210 S Broad Street 3rd Floor | Trenton | NJ | 08608


Decoding Dyslexia – NJ

Educational Reform for Dyslexia in NJ Schools

Please take a moment and get your voice heard

OK, if you haven’t heard, the dyslexia early screening bill (A3605/S2442) has officially been added to the General Assembly Voting Session on THIS Thursday, Dec. 19th at 1:00pm.

NOW is the time for everyone to contact
ALL the Assemblymen and Assemblywomen via email, phone call or BOTH and respectfully request that they vote YES on bill A3605/S2442 on Thurs., Dec. 19th. Sample email below.

Find your Assembly Members here:

Note about email addresses: NJ Assembly email addresses are this: ASM (or ASW, if a woman) last name@njleg.org (no spaces)