Letter to Dr. Taylor and BOE, submitted to Public Speaks (11/16/20)

November 16, 2020 BOE Meeting

Dr. Taylor, Board of Education members, Administration and Community members: 

Good evening.

We, the leadership of the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (aka. SEPAC), listen to concerns of families of special education students in our district and pay attention to how these concerns are addressed. We are pleased with Dr. Alegria’s efforts, particularly how she and the Special Services department are helping teachers and families come up with individualized virtual programs for their students. We know there are more families who need support for their students and encourage teachers to read through the Virtual Accommodations manual that was provided to help them support every student individually. We also appreciate that Dr. Alegria is available to meet with us regularly and makes a point to drop in on our SEPAC community meetings. Up until her arrival, we had yet to have a leader of Special Services be so available, well-versed in the issues and transparent. 

In late September, the district prioritized three self-contained special education classrooms at Columbia High School for in-person learning and we commend you for ensuring a safe return for these students, their teachers and paraprofessionals. As Governor Murphy has left it up to each school district to decide what type of in-person instruction to offer, we urge you to continue to prioritize bringing back special education students, especially those who are in self-contained classrooms and the younger students struggling the most. You recognized the need to bring in younger students before older ones in the Hybrid Plan’s phased-in start, we hope you recognize the even greater need for special education students to return sooner.

We support relying on safety precautions first and foremost to go back inside buildings, however, there are now approximately 20 classrooms at Columbia High School opened safely. This leads us to ask: what about the other schools? We know some of them continue to have childcare through the YMCA, but we understand this arrangement would not be a deterrent to bring in the relatively few preschool, elementary and middle school self-contained special education students. We’d like to know that you are using ALL the available resources for these classes to make a safe return. 

We believe that our most vulnerable students should NOT be reliant on the district-wide hybrid plan, but they should have their own trajectory to returning to their buildings. These students have been able to remain in-district because their needs have been supported appropriately through these self-contained programs, but they need to be instructed in-person, just as the students at the high school are. 

Thank you for your attention and support.

SEPAC Board 2020-2021

Michele Richman, Malia Herman, Caryn Gehrke, Nicole Josey, Nicole Stewart, Lindsey Stone, Beth Cosentino and Ann Leeb

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