Officials are in the process of correcting several violations issued by the state Department of Education in regards to the district’s special education program.
The state’s Office of Special Education (OSE) found the district failed to comply with 14 of 46 state and federal special education requirements, 10 of which have to do with record keeping; federal requirements are mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The did not have a director of special services from December 2009 until current director in July 2010. Scalo said this contributed to some of the violations.
"I, and the entire department, are working to address these violations," Scalo said.
Scalo said the district has purchased new record keeping software to ensure that files and students’ Individualized Education Plans are current.
“Our move to this new database has allowed us to put in safeguards that will catch these compliance issues,” Scalo said.
The software informs personnel of exactly how much work has been done regarding a particular student and what needs to be done next.
The Office of Special Education conducted onsite-monitoring visits and audits of the district’s records in 2009 to ensure that the requirements were met, however the process was not complete until this year.
Richard Vespucci from the state Department of Education could not provide the specific number of violations by school districts in Passaic and Bergen Counties for the same time frame.
The district has approximately 1,700 special education students and approximately 250 employees. About 130 employees are paraprofessionals who work exclusively with one student.
Among the findings of noncompliance were the following violations:
- Students were not invited to IEP to discuss transition services to adult life.
- The district did not consistently provide students with written summaries of their academic achievement and functional performance prior to graduation.
- A review of records and interviews with staff members indicated that IEP meetings for students eligible for speech language services were not consistently conducted, or more often, if necessary due to lack of implementation of district procedures.
- Letters to students informing them of their progress or graduation status were supposed to be addressed and mailed to students separate from their parents or guardians. Scalo said letters were mailed out, but if one or two were not placed in a separate envelope, that could have trigged a violation.
Most of the violations are easily correctable, Scalo said. Scalo said that due to proper record keeping, all students with an IEP who are 14 or older are now asked if they want to attend an IEP meeting for such a purpose.
The district is taking steps to ensure the violations do not reoccur.
Scalo has scheduled a series of training sessions with district personnel to address the noncompliance issues. The sessions began in November and will end in March.
The state will return in May to ensure the district is compliant with the violations.
Empowerment and labeling
Providing students the opportunity to sit in on an IEP meeting or receive a letter addressed to them is about empowering the students to believe in themselves, Scalo said.
“People, and particularly students, grow and mature when they believe in themselves,” Scalo said. “When you send a message that you’re different you’re creating a divide that wouldn’t necessarily be there.”
The fundamental problem with special education in general, Scalo said, is that it is based on labeling, and not empowering, students.
“Children in particular should not be labeled, but unfortunately, that’s the way we get our funding,” Scalo said. “The way the law is written actually encourages us to look at students from a deific model.”
Rather than focus on the things that a student does well or how a student learns well, special education teachers often focus on fixing a negative aspect of a student’s learning process.
“We’re looking at the problems rather than the successes,” Scalo said.