|2-1-12 Anti-Bullying and Special Education Education Issues in the News|
Star Ledger editorial - 'N.J. should fix anti-bullying law, not gut it'...(GSCS Note: GSCS concurs with the spirit of this editorial. GSCS was present at the Council of Local Mandates hearing when they rendered their decision on the law being an unfunded mandate. The Council made it clear that they hoped that the state would fix the law by addressing the unfunded mandate problem within the law. In fact, that is why - as stated with clarity by the Council at that time - that the Council's decision included a 60 day delay which would give the state time to 'fix' the problem and thus the law's intent could stay uninterrupted and intact.)
NJ Spotlight - Newark Special Ed Settlement, A Decade in the Details
Star Ledger editorial - N.J. should fix anti-bullying law, not gut it
(GSCS Note: GSCS concurs with the spirit of this editorial. GSCS was present at the Council of Local Mandates hearing when they rendered their decision on the law being an unfunded mandate. The Council made it clear that they hoped that the state would fix the law by addressing the unfunded mandate problem within the law. In fact, that is why - as stated with clarity by the Council at that time - that the Council's decision included a 60 day delay which would give the state time to 'fix' the problem and thus the law's intent could stay uninterrupted and intact.)
Published: Wednesday, February 01, 2012, 6:03 AM
By Star-Ledger Editorial BoardThe Star-Ledger
Legislators are in a mad scramble to come up with funding for the state’s tough new law against bullying, and maybe that’s a good thing.
After a state panel ruled last week that the law imposes an “unfunded mandate” on districts, lawmakers now face a 60-day deadline to fix the problem. Gov. Chris Christie has pledged to find a way to keep this law effective. There are two options: Gut the bill or find the funding.
We hope it’s the latter. We should fix — not scrap — this protective law, one of the strongest in the nation. It was rushed through in the wake of a tragedy, when Rutgers University freshman violinist Tyler Clementi committed suicide, after allegedly being bullied because he was gay.
What we need now is a realistic appraisal of the costs involved. To do this right, some money should be allocated for training teachers and supervisors. And the Department of Education should issue guidelines on exactly what types of incidents merit reporting. The way the law is working now, too many of these reports defy common sense.
Here’s what bullying is not: one kindergarten student thwacking another over the head with a teddy bear. It may sound obvious, yet their teacher still called the office of Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), lead sponsor of the law, to find out if it merited an investigation.
“Come on,” Huttle said yesterday. “You’re going to write a report when the kid is staying home from school because they’re afraid of being kicked or spit on or seriously abused. That’s what we’re talking about.”
State guidelines will help. So will investing in more training, which saves money in the long run. Teachers will better understand how to grapple with these incidents if they get a clearer definition of what bullying actually means, day to day, in a classroom. Then they won’t feel like they need to report every little conflict, automatically kick-starting a mandatory investigative process that wastes everyone’s time and resources.
Free training has been offered by the New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey State Bar Association. But it hasn’t reached enough districts. Some funding — whether it’s from the state, federal grants or private sources — would greatly expand and improve that.
Remember, without monitoring or consequences attached, school bullying policies too often went unenforced. This is the first school year we’ve tried implementing this very comprehensive law. There will be growing pains. But it’s worth some investment and fine-tuning to make students safer.
Ten years in the courts and with some of its original plaintiffs long out of school, a federal lawsuit contending that Newark effectively cheated thousands of students of special education services has been settled -- with promises all around.
But the finalized last week in U.S. District Court between the district, the Christie administration, and the plaintiff families may be more a beginning than an ending, since now the tough work starts in making those promises stick.
"Is this finally the end?" said Ruth Lowenkron, an attorney with the Newark-based Education Law Center who helped first bring the case in 2001. "I don't know."
The complaint was led by a group of parents who contended that their children were being denied the right to prompt identification and evaluation for their special needs, as required under federal and state law.
The specific provisions of the law specify that special needs students receive their first evaluation meeting within 20 days of a request and that special education services be implemented within 90 days of the parents consent.
Instead, the suit contended, the process was delayed months, and at time years, denying children the full range of required counseling, tutoring, and other help prescribed for their disabilities.
The plaintiffs further argued that the state was culpable in failing to enforce its laws, especially in a district that it directly controls.
Yesterday, the Education Law Center announced that all sides had finally settled without going to trial, with Newark vowing to close the gaps in its system and the state agreeing to better oversee the process, including the use of an outside monitor it selects.
Lowenkron readily conceded that the settlement fell short of stronger measures that the plaintiffs sought, including a fully independent monitor and specific staffing in the district, but she said it was time to get out of the courts and redress the problems.
"Now we'll be able to get in there and do the work," she said. "If they don't comply, then we'll be back in the courts. "
The settlement puts significant onus on the state to ensure that Newark lives up to the agreement, with a regular series of compliance reports required, as well as independent follow-up and enforcement. One stipulation is that Newark must monitor and report its students' progress using electronic tracking, suggesting that the district had been working with paper records.
The special monitor designated in the settlement is Priscilla Petrosky, a former Jersey City school administrator. State officials said Petrosky began her work last year, prior to the settlement.
"We will continue to work closely with Newark to ensure that all students receive the education they deserve," said Justin Barra, a spokesman with the Department of Education.
The state also agreed to fund $1 million in services for students who lost out on them over the past two years due to the district's negligence. It was also required to pay the parents' legal fees, which were in excess of $230,000.
This is not the only special education case involving Newark in federal court. A class action case was filed in 2007 against the state, arguing that it failed to ensure students were being educated in the "least restrictive environment," with Newark one of 20 districts cited. That case is also in U.S. District Court in Trenton.
Garden State Coalition of Schools