NJASP

New Jersey Association of School Psychologists

   STATE TASK FORCE RECOMMENDS LOOSENING SAFEGUARDS 

On Sept 5, 2012 the governor's Education Transformation Task Force issued its Final Report.  In its Overview to the report, the Task Force makes clear its aim:  "The revisions would reduce burdens on districts, PSSDs (private schools for students with disabilities) and the Department (NJ Dept of Education). while also helping to rein in costs." The review presented here includes comments by a coalition of concerned stakeholders, professional and community, from within and outside of the schools.  Many of you have been following, and some have participated in, the unfolding events.  Our intent here is to provide a brief history and update, to encourage dialogue and additional active participation in the process. 

The deliberations of the State Board of Education (NJBOE) are continuing.  We provide a guideline to that process.  The NJ Association of School Psychologists (NJASP), represented by our Executive Board and specifically designated members, has been continually involved in responding to the Task Force's report.  We strongly urge the membership at large, and in fact all concerned individuals and groups, to be informed about the issues and to make your voices heard.  Contact information is provided at the end of this article.The (state) Task Force recognizes that "The broad universe of special education regulations merit a careful review, which was beyond the scope of the Task Force.  The Task Force recommends that the Department convene a working group to study special education laws, regulations and practices to identify ways to improve student achievement, protect student health and safety, and manage this educational sector's rapidly escalating costs."

Why the rush to implement substantial changes in the immediate future, which stand to affect the wellbeing of the children, is not clear.  Wouldn't it have been wiser to benefit from the broader study of the suggested "working group," so that appropriate changes could be considered in the broad context of ramifications within the system as a whole?The coalition's entire responses are made available as part of this article, in order to share the specific issues on which the coalition's members unanimously agreed.  The rationales of the Task Force and of the coalition are both presented.  The two separate documents refer to Chap. 14 (Special Education) and Chap. 16 (not specifically Special Education but seen as relevant). 
 
Items on which consensus was not reached include the following:
 
NJAC 6A:14-2.9(b)  Student records
Proposed:  "When student record information is contained in a document that is copyrighted, access...shall consist of inspecting and reviewing the document, and no copy of the document shall be provided to the parent or adult student."

NJAC 6A:14-3.7(e)  Individualized education program
Proposed:  The requirement for "annual academic and functional goals (which are) measurable" is retained but would  no longer have to be "detailed."

NJAC 6A:14-3.8(e)  Reevaluation
Proposed:  The 60 day timeline from date of assent is lengthened to 90 days.  In addition:  "If the parent repeatedly fails or refuses to produce the child for any assessment that is a part of the reevaluation, the time period above shall not apply."

NJAC 6A:14-5.1(c)  General requirements
Proposed:  Adds "private schools for students with disabilities" to the list of sources for l local districts to contract with in order to "provide counseling or mental health services....for child study team services.  The amendment would expand the number of CST service provider options, which would increase flexibility for districts and other education agencies, add more competitive pressure...."

NJAC 6A:14-7.3(b)  Amendment procedures for receiving schools
Proposed:  Increase to 30 calendar days from the current seven, the requirement for an approved private special education school "... to notify the Department (of Education) when a professional staff member departs...or when (it) ...hires a new professional staff member." Subsequent to the initial testimony and continuing conversations, there has been some limited pullback from the Task Force's proposals.  For example:  with respect to broadening Case Manager staff:  instead of opening up this designation to all staff who are knowledgeable regarding special education, it is now proposed to add "only" special education teachers and guidance counselors.  And loosening the limits and waiver procedures for age range and class size for special education classes is being reconsidered.
 
In sum, the Task Force's aim is to decrease regulations, expand flexibility, reduce costs, and save money.  Many professional and community members, along with families of children with special needs, are examining very closely the ramifications for providing high quality and efficient services and supports for these children.
 
NJASP continues to actively join these efforts.
 
The official comment period is still open.   While testimony can be submitted at any time, direct oral testimony can be given when NJBOE meets the first Wednesday of the month.  There are often specific topics for the meetings.  As of this writing, we understand that topics for the June meeting will not be restricted.  Advance registration is required in order to speak at the meeting.  It is anticipated that final adoption of revised regulations will be made by NJBOE in either August or September -- unless major concerns and revisions need to be considered.

As noted at the start of this article, the Executive Board of NJASP urges everyone who is interested in the welfare of children, especially those children with special needs, to understand the issues and to share your perspectives.  In particular, we welcome school psychologists to participate actively as much as you can.
 
If you'd like to join NJASP's efforts, or have questions, I can be contacted at sandyhecno1@aol.com.  We also welcome any comments you'd like to see published on our website or in the newsletter.
 
Sol B. Heckelman
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