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March 23, 2018
Dear Members of the Board,
We are writing to express our support for the proposed 2018-2019 SOMASD budget and to ask that you approve it on Monday evening.
We are encouraged that the current Administration seems to realize that the solution to historical programming and budgetary problems in special education is investment in teachers, support programming and data analysis rather than budget cuts or maintaining the status quo.
For many years, past Administrations and Boards had sought to “fix” the district’s special education financial issues by proposing cuts to core in-district services. The list is long, from eliminating full-day special ed pre-k, to contracting out paraprofessionals, to proposing deep cuts to co-teaching staff and to hiring expensive consultants to identify even more cuts. Further, past Administrations and Boards had been far too complacent in supporting and promoting ineffective leadership in special education despite outcries from parents and other stakeholders.
All of this has led us to where we are now – with still-high levels of dis-satisfaction and mistrust among many parents and staff, with out-of-district tuition costs skyrocketing and crowding out other spending priorities, and with a revolving door in supervisory staff.
We hope that the current budget proposal signals an end to the era of under-investment in in-district special education programming. But even after adopting this budget, there will be much more to do. In our recent meetings with the Administration, we have made several recommendations which we would like to see implemented to build on the progress committed to in the budget:
– Mandatory special services professional development for ALL district staff geared toward enhancing differentiated instruction and co-teaching methods and empowering special education teachers in general education settings
– Adding a special services “coach”, who would be an expert on special education teaching methodologies who would act as a resource in supporting staff with ongoing professional development
– Review of caseworker and supervisor workloads and staff levels which recognizes the increased special ed enrollment and teaching staff as well as the prospect of bringing back/retaining some of our most challenged students in-district
– Adding supports related to the STEM realignment to ensure that students currently struggling in level 2 math and all students who will be “leveling up” this Fall have the resources they need to succeed
– Adding one or more full-time dual-certified substitute teachers who can be the first on call for teacher absences, in order to avoid the all-to-frequent situation of IEP violations due to the shortage of qualified substitute staff.
– Mandatory ongoing training provided by SOMSD
– Utilizing all opportunities within SOMSD’s contractual rights to improve the quality of paraprofessionals through taking action pursuant to performance and feedback monitoring
Other Recommendations / Requests
– Full implementation of the 504 Policy
– While not necessarily impacting the budget, we have recommended Special Services Transition Night events for families of students entering kindergarten / 6th grade / 9th grade and 3rd grade at Jefferson
– We have requested inventories and locations of multi-sensory technology (i.e. smart boards or more current technology) in special ed classrooms as well as of installed sound field (FM) systems. We have been assured by the Administration that these requests have been submitted to the Technology Department, however we have not as yet received any data.
We appreciate your and the Administration’s work on the 2018-2019 budget, and, again, we support its adoption. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the district to improve the educational experience for special needs students, and we would be happy to further discuss our recommendations or answer any questions you may have.
SOMA Special Education Parent Advisory Committee
Erin Siders, President
Reesa Salomon, Vice President
Mike Thompson, Policy Officer
Bernadette Hackler, Communications Officer
Nedra Cabbagestalk, Secretary
Jenny Lindstrom, Board Liaison
Mike Donoghue, Budget Committee
Got questions? Get answers!
SPED PTO meeting
Monday, November 13
BOE building, 525 Academy, Maplewood
Topic: Overview of SOMSD Special Education Administration
Dr. Lauren Reisenauer, Executive Director of Special Services and Youth Development,
Elizabeth Baker, President of the Board of Education, and
Maureen Jones, BOE trustee and liaison to the Special Education community
Plus SEPAC briefing and time to seek support, share resources and connect with other members of the special education community. All welcome. Please join us.
Have a question, comment or concern and cannot attend Monday night, please submit your questions HERE
Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC) Summary of SOMSD Section 504 Policy & Regulations
This summary was prepared by SEPAC and is intended as an overview only. Parents and guardians should refer to the full Policy 5750.1 for complete details.
- The Superintendent or designee shall be responsible for the District’s efforts to comply with the requirements of the policy, and shall take all actions necessary to ensure the Building 504 Coordinators inform all appropriate staff of student rights under 504 plans(4)
- The Superintendent shall ensure that all staff receive appropriate and ongoing professional development regarding 504 requirements(4)
- The district must make all reasonable efforts to identify unserved students with disabilities who are eligible for services under IDEA , ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1)
- The District must provide FAPE (Free & Appropriate Public Education) to each qualified student with a disability (1)
- Students with Disabilities shall be provided with an individualized and systemic plan of accommodations and services (1)
- Such accommodations and services must be designed to allow students to access curricular and extra-curricular activities in a manner substantially consistent with their non-disabled peers (1)
- To the maximum extent possible, students with disabilities must be educated with students who are not disabled (1)
- Any District facility operated for students with disabilities must be comparable to those operated for students who are not disabled (1)
- At the end of each school year, each building Principal shall present a report to the Superintendent which includes (5):
- Number of Section 504 referrals
- Outcome of evaluation processes
- Concerns and issues identified by the school’s 504 Teams
- Effectiveness of services provided in achieving outcomes identified in 504 plans
- Annually, the Superintendent must present a report to the Board which includes (5)
- Summary of the District’s identification and evaluation of students
- Section 504 accommodations required
- The number and nature complaints/grievances filed regarding 504 plan compliance, allegations of discrimination or retaliation
- Procedures for ensuring compliance with Section 504 requirements
- – Roles & Responsibilities (2)
- District 504 Coordinator: Responsible for ensuring District compliance and has authority to investigate grievances and make recommendations to the superintendent regarding resolutions
- Building 504 Coordinator: Principal or a designee. Manages the 504 Committee in the building end ensures compliance with 504 plans in the building. Responsible for ensuring that staff are informed about students’ accommodations and that 504 plans are implemented
- Section 504 Team: the team that works on an individual 504 case. Includes the Building 504 Coordinator, and MAY include teachers, Principal, parents/guardians, the student and others with relevant case knowledge. Staffing may differ for each student.
- Section 504 Committee: Serves all District students and schools as an initial means of redress for parents/guardians who cannot resolve issues through the 504 Team. The 504 Committee will consist of persons who will, when necessary, become knowledgeable about a student’s case.
- – Evaluation Process(3)
- Students with disabilities must be identified, referred to and evaluated by a Section 504 Team, such evaluation to occur in a timely manner.
- Students may be referred by parents/guardians or school staff.
- An initial evaluation requires parent/guardian consent.
- A Section 504 Team shall draw upon a variety of sources in making decisions about accommodations, services and placements: test results, teacher recommendations, physical condition, adaptive behaviors, recommendations from medical providers, as applicable
- The Section 504 Coordinator is responsible for procedures to ensure that information obtained from all sources is documented and considered
- Parent/guardian who disagrees with the 504 Team decisions or recommendations may utilize the services of the 504 Committee.
- – Regulations (4)
- Regulations must be developed for:
- District efforts to identify unserved students
- Eligibility determinations
- 504 plan development and implementation
- Notices to parents/guardians regarding referrals and procedural rights
- Appealing determinations and expeditiously resolving complaints
- Procedures to ensure implementation and compliance with 504 plans
- Specific procedures for 504 compliance at student transition points (kindergarten, 6th grade, 9th grade)
- Grievance procedures to expeditiously process complaints of discrimination or retaliation for asserting rights under Section 504 or the Policy.
- Regulations must be developed for:
- (1) Policy 5750.1; Section I, Introduction
- (2) Policy5750.1;SectionII,Definitions
- (3) Policy 5750.1; Section III, Evaluation
- (4) Policy 5750.1; Section IV, Implementation
- (5) Policy5750.1;SectionV,Reports
I am Erin Siders from Maplewood, President of the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC).
SEPAC would like to address the status of the regulations for implementing the Section 504 Policy. The Board adopted the policy on September 19, 2016. As you know, the Policy states that “within sixty days of the adoption of this Policy, the Superintendent shall issue regulations and procedures for complying with Section 504 and this Policy…”. To date, however, no regulations have been issued.
Since the Policy was adopted, SEPAC has contacted the District many times regarding these regulations. We have repeatedly been told that the regulations were being “finalized” and would be provided to us shortly. Although the deadline for issuing the regulations expired more than seven months ago, we have yet to see any draft or proposal.
We are now bringing our concerns back to the Board. We appreciate that the Policy was initiated by Board members, that the community, including SEPAC, was invited to participate in a lengthy drafting process, and that the majority of Board members have publicly proclaimed their support for the Policy. But that is not enough. As far as we can tell, our students with 504 plans are in no better position than they were before the policy was adopted. As far as we can tell, not much has been done to rectify the numerous problems that have been brought to the Administration and Board’s attention over the last several years.
In addition to requiring that the District issue regulations by November 2016, the Policy requires that, at the end of each school year, each building Principal deliver a report on the effectiveness of the services identified in Section 504 plans. And that, on the basis of the Principal’s reports, the Superintendent shall annually report to the Board a summary of activities related to Section 504.
The end of the school year has now come and gone. We are not aware that the required reports have been delivered by the principals, or that the Superintendent has made the required report to the Board. We are not even aware that any steps were ever taken to gather the data necessary to prepare such reports.
The efforts made by the Board to adopt the policy in 2016 are laudable. But we need the Board to take action to compel the District to actually comply with the requirements of the Policy.
A new District and Special education management team is in place. We urge you to take this opportunity to direct the Interim Superintendent to make this a top priority for the new Special Services Executive Director. And that you inquire about progress at each public Board meeting until the regulations are written, reviewed with the Community, and fully implemented.
SEPAC will be staying very close to this issue until it is resolved. As always we stand ready to provide whatever support we can to move this forward quickly.
From Kevin Walston to the Special Education Community:
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Dear SOMSD Community,
We are writing to update you on the search for the new Director of Special Services & Youth Development.
The initial announcement for the Director position was posted in October and drew extensive interest from qualified candidates across the region. Dr. Nunery of Atlantic Research Partners screened the candidate pool for our interview committee (parents, teachers, child study team members and administrators) and we interviewed three worthy candidates on Monday, December 12th. Unfortunately, the interviews did not yield in a recommendation for further consideration. As a result, the search has been reopened. If all goes as planned, Dr. Nunery will screen a new group of candidates and arrive at 3-5 finalists for our consideration in February. Successful candidates will then be recommended to round two and BOE consideration by March 2017. In the meantime, an Interim Director has been identified and will be recommended to the BOE for consideration during our search.
The district is excited, energized, and unified in our quest for the next great leader to lead our district special education and youth service programs to even higher levels of success and excellence. We are more confident than ever that we will find an exceptional Director of Special Services & Youth Development for our district. The process is “moving along”, and we are excited about the candidate pool and hope our next round of interviews yield a recommendation.
Results of Search
Given these high expectations, I’m pleased to report that our nationwide search for a new director, which began last October, resulted in a diverse pool of candidates. In fact, as evidenced by the detailed resumes, applications, and supporting documentation, the stellar reputation of the South Orange & Maplewood School District has attracted a talented pool of proven leaders in education. For this reason, we are confident that we will find a new Director of Special Services & Youth Development.
Next Steps and Timeline
So, you might be wondering, what’s next? In an effort to keep you apprised of our process, below is a timeline of activities.
· Applicants are screened for initial interviews.
· Extensive and thorough background check of candidates will be completed.
· A limited number of finalists are forwarded for level one consideration.
· Interview committee is contacted and interviews are scheduled for mid-February.
· Level One interviews are conducted and successful candidates advance to Level Two.
· Level Two interviews are conducted and a finalist advances for BOE consideration.
· The Board of Education meets with finalist.
· The Board of Education extends contract to final selection.
· The district announces the New Director of Special Services & Youth Development.
On behalf of the South Orange & Maplewood School District, I want to thank you for your interest and input into the search for a new Director of Special Services and Youth Development. Your input is directly informing and shaping the search. We greatly appreciate all your comments, emails, survey responses, and conversations all across our school community.
Kevin L. Walston
Assistant Superintendent for Administration
School District of South Orange/Maplewood
525 Academy Street * Maplewood, NJ 07040
P.973-762-5600 x 1825
A Note from Reesa Solomon, SEPAC VP:
Hello fellow SOMSD families. Next month, I will be taking on the role of SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Committee) Vice President. In the last 2 weeks, I have heard many parents discussing issues regarding IEPs and 504s, communication with case managers, student schedules, etc. SEPAC is looking to see what types of trends exist with regard to issues with our students’ needs being met at the beginning of the school year. We ask you to please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org (or complete the form below) to share your experience. If we see commonalities in individuals’ issues, we will then be able to bring these issues to the board as part of our role within the district. Please email your concerns to us, as well as utilizing the district “Let’s Talk” option on their website. You can find the Special Education section here: Let’s Talk!!
SEPAC Statement to the Board of Education January 25, 2016
Good evening. I’m Jenny Lindstrom, President of SEPAC, the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee.
I first want to welcome the new members of the board and say to all of you that SEPAC looks forward to working with you on questions of District policy and practice related to students with special educational needs.
As many of you know, SEPAC has had concerns in the past about the district’s budgeting and decision making processes that have – at times –proceeded in the absence of publicly available data or informed discussion.
We commend you for asking the Dept of Special Services to share its vision and proposed 2016-17 programming at your meeting last month. We hope that the timing of that presentation was early enough in the budget cycle to allow for thorough vetting, stakeholder input, and financial analysis.
I would also like to call out some of the elements of that presentation that resonated with us, for instance:
- Creating more of a continuum of offerings at the elementary level – as opposed to the current offerings of mostly full inclusion on the one end and self-contained classrooms on the other end.
- And at the secondary level, we are encouraged to hear that the District recognizes the inconsistencies of supports and is exploring adding the i-step therapy program, which seems to be effective at MMS and CHS, to SOMS
- And that it is looking at adding back a resource room period that would enable a wide range of struggling students – at every school – to get the support they need during the school day.
We foresee that building out the continuum of offerings at the elementary schools and adding more academic and therapeutic supports at the secondary schools will enable us to meet the needs of more of our students here in district.
It is also clear that additional resources will be needed to provide consistent high quality services across all schools and grades.
Yet, without retrievable, accurate, reasonably detailed multi-year data, it will be difficult to fully assess or address cost drivers like increases in special education referrals, paraprofessional assignments, and OOD placements.
We feel that the lack of such data is a major impediment to informed decision making and responsible budgeting, and we urge you to consider adding resources in the new budget to strengthen operational functionalities between the special services department and business office.
Thank you. ∞