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SPECIAL EDUCATION CRISIS IN STATE-OPERATED PATERSON SCHOOLS WORSENS

September 6, 2017

In response to several Education Law Center requests, the Office of Special Education Policy and Procedure (OSEPP) in the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) has uncovered widespread violations of federal and state special education laws in the State-operated Paterson Public Schools (Paterson). 

The most recent of these complaint investigation reports found Paterson out of compliance with special education requirements pertaining to preschool students in the district. The State found Paterson to be noncompliant with its obligation to locate and evaluate students with disabilities, known as “child find,” and determined that the district failed to provide “related services,” such as speech, physical, and occupational therapy, to preschoolers. 

Even more alarming, OSEPP was unable to more specifically identify the violations and determine necessary “corrective action” because Paterson refused to cooperate with the investigation. 

In the investigation report, issued July 28, OSEPP admits that it “was unable to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations as the district failed to respond to document requests and failed to make staff available for interviews.” In the report, OSEPP orders Paterson to supply the missing information so NJDOE investigators can determine the specific corrective action needed to address Paterson’s noncompliance.

“We’re deeply disturbed at how the State, which controls the Paterson schools, could simply refuse to cooperate with an investigation by its own investigators,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “If the NJDOE cannot secure compliance from a district it directly operates, the special education crisis extends directly to the NJDOE’s inability to perform its most basic oversight obligations under federal law.”

In a letter to State education officials, ELC has requested that the NJDOE take immediate action to ensure Paterson understands its obligation to comply with OSEPP investigations and promptly provides all missing information so that Paterson preschool children receive mandated special education services. 

A previous OSEPP investigation concluded in May 2017 that Paterson failed to provide related services to numerous school-aged children during the 2016-17 school year. Documentation obtained by ELC revealed tens of thousands of speech therapy and other related services sessions that Paterson failed to provide students during the school year. Based on its investigation, the NJDOE ordered Paterson to provide compensatory education to all students who were deprived of these essential services last year.

“Unfortunately, the NJDOE refuses to acknowledge Paterson’s budget shortfalls and the resulting cuts to essential staff, programs, and services in recent years,” said Jessica Levin, ELC attorney. “In order for Paterson to meet its special education obligations, provide compensatory services, and avoid future noncompliance with state and federal law, the district must be able to secure sufficient, appropriately trained staff to provide special education and related services for students with disabilities.”

A factor in Paterson’s budget crisis has been the rapid expansion of charter enrollment with support from Governor Chris Christie. Given this crisis, ELC has submitted detailed objections to the NJDOE on applications to open three new charter schools in Paterson and has called on State Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington to halt any further charter expansion at this time.

 

Related Stories:

STATE INVESTIGATION FINDS PATERSON FAILED TO PROVIDE THERAPY SERVICES TO STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

ELC TAKES ON SPECIAL EDUCATION CRISIS IN STATE-OPERATED PATERSON DISTRICT

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24