|6-19-13 Special Education on Senate Education Committee Agenda Today|
GSCS Supports: S2645 (Sponsor - Senator Teresa Ruiz) BILL STATEMENT - This bill establishes the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the Department of Education, which will serve as a resource to provide information and support to parents, students, and educators...
NJ Spotlight – State Backs Off on Changes in Special-Education Regulations…Proposed new code encountered strong opposition from advocates, families... "Next up, the Senate education committee will hold a rare Wednesday hearing this morning on nearly a dozen special-education measures, including a bill to create a state ombudsman for special-education complaints and several other proposals to improve identification, training and programs for teaching students with dyslexia and other reading disorders."
This bill establishes the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the Department of Education, which will serve as a resource to provide information and support to parents, students, and educators regarding special education rights and services. Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education will appoint a Special Education Ombudsman who is qualified by training and experience to perform the duties of the office. The ombudsman will also be skilled in communication, conflict resolution, and professionalism.
The duties of the Special Education Ombudsman will include, at a minimum, the following: (1) to serve as a source of information regarding State and federal laws and regulations governing special education; (2) to provide information and support to parents of students with disabilities in navigating and understanding the process for obtaining special education evaluations and services; (3) to provide information and communication strategies to parents and school districts for resolving disagreements concerning special education issues, and to educate parents on the available options for resolving such disputes; (4) to work neutrally and objectively with all parties to help ensure that a fair process is followed and that the special education system functions equitably and as intended; (5) to identify any patterns of complaints that emerge regarding special education rights and services, and to recommend strategies for improvement to the Department of Education; (6) to assist the department in creating public information programs that educate parents and the public about the ombudsman’s duties; and (7) to serve as a resource for disability-related information and referrals to other available programs and services for individuals with disabilities, including early intervention and transition to adult life. The bill provides that the ombudsman will treat communications received in the course of his duties as confidential.
The bill directs the Special Education Ombudsman to make an annual report to the State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education that includes a summary of the services the ombudsman provided during the year and recommendations concerning the State’s implementation of special education procedures and services.
The Christie administration has pulled back from its hotly contested plans to change special-education requirements for school districts and families, leaving current regulations in place for now.
The state Board of Education will meet in an emergency session on Friday to take the unusual step of vacating its preliminary approval of the proposed changes, then voting to extend the current regulations.
Without the vote, the regulations would have expired without any new regulations to replace them.
The decision came in the face of strong opposition to the proposed changes, which were billed as a move to free up districts from some of the strict requirements for programs and staffing to educate the state’s 210,000 students with disabilities.
One of the most controversial proposals would have loosened required qualifications for serving as a student’s case manager, a critical conduit for families in coordinating a child’s services. Another contested provision would have exempted private special-education schools from having the same certification requirements for their teachers as district schools.
The proposals sparked an unusual amount of public comment directed at the state board, with some of it spilling into the Legislature as well. So contentious was the case-manager proposal that the Assembly was moving a bill that would have essentially blocked the administration from making the change.
The state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, led a strong campaign against the entire package of regulatory changes, and hundreds of people submitted testimony to the state board. Nonetheless, the state board had moved to proceed with the changes with little, if any, dissent.
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf yesterday maintained the changes were “extremely modest,” and he did not rule them out for future adoption. But he said the amount of opposition from advocates and families gave him pause.
“We maybe did not communicate this as well as we could have,” Cerf said. “We wanted to have the chance to process this, as this is a community we care about and want to bring along. That will take more time.”
Some advocates cheered the decision, saying the changes were not at all modest and would have hurt students and families.
“We are extremely pleased that the department has rescinded the proposal, and is planning to reauthorize the regulations as they are,” said Ruth Lowenkron, an attorney with the Education Law Center in Newark, who testified against the changes at several hearings.
“We trust they heard the voice of advocates and families who said these were problematic, and we trust they will not revisit them anytime soon,” she said. “And if they do, they will listen to the advocates and families.”
When and if state officials will revisit the regulations is uncertain, especially in the face of the gubernatorial and legislative elections in November.
State board President Arcelio Aponte said yesterday that he expected they would be back in the fall, but acknowledged it was highly unusual for the state board to be asked to vacate a vote in the first place.
“But it is also unusual to have received this level of comments that we did, where there were literally hundreds and hundreds of letters,” he said.
The decision comes as special education issues are rising to the fore on several fronts, with the Legislature taking up a variety of proposals in the last month, including shearing last week devoted solely to special education.
Next up, the Senate education committee will hold a rare Wednesday hearing this morning on nearly a dozen special-education measures, including a bill to create a state ombudsman for special-education complaints and several other proposals to improve identification, training and programs for teaching students with dyslexia and other reading disorders.
Garden State Coalition of Schools