Newark NJ — November 19, 2010

A hiring freeze imposed by the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) on the Paterson school district has resulted in hundreds of preschoolers with disabilities not receiving the special education and related services to which they are entitled under state and federal law.

The denial of these services has prompted parents of Paterson preschoolers with disabilities to file a complaint with NJDOE asking for the immediate provision of necessary special education services, along with compensatory services to make up for almost three months of missed education programs. Education Law Center attorney and Greenberg Traurig Equal Justice Works fellow Lauren S. Michaels is representing the Paterson parents and children.

When school opened in September, students with disabilities in Paterson-funded preschool programs were entitled to receive speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, and other special education services. “Under state and federal law, the school district must provide the educational services in each child’s Individual Education Program (IEP), and the State Education Department must make sure that the district has the resources to do so,” Michaels stated. “We know of many Paterson children who are not receiving these services, and the total number of affected children may be in the hundreds.”

“The Paterson school district keeps telling us that they are working on the problem, but my daughter has been without speech therapy for months,” said Corey Teague, father of one of the affected preschoolers. “We are trying our best to help her develop her language skills at home, but without her weekly speech therapy she is falling farther and farther behind.”

Parents have been told by Paterson officials that a September 15th “freeze” of the district’s budget by NJ DOE has prevented the hiring of necessary staff. The NJDOE freeze has resulted in numerous problems, including the complete lack of services required by the children’s IEPs, the provision of services by uncertified substitutes, and the halting of evaluations to determine students’ needs. The NJDOE and Paterson district have yet to offer any assurance when the required services will be provided or how students will be able to make up for lost time.

“It is difficult to comprehend how the NJDOE could freeze hiring, knowing that such action would result in the loss of mandated services to vulnerable three- and four-year old children,” Michaels said. “Budget cuts or freezes can’t be made without regard to the state and school districts’ responsibilities to educate children with disabilities.”

The complaint seeks immediate restoration of special education and related services, as well as compensatory education to make up for the services these children lost. “Research demonstrates that high quality preschool programs are critical to the educational success for children with disabilities, and every day that these children are illegally denied services is an opportunity lost,” Michaels added.

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Lauren S. Michaels, Esq.
Greenberg Traurig Equal Justice Works Fellow
voice: 973 624-1815 x15

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240