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SPECIAL EDUCATION FAILURES IN STATE-OPERATED PATERSON CONTINUE

January 11, 2018

For a second year, Education Law Center is receiving reports that students with disabilities in the State-operated Paterson School District are not receiving required speech-language services.  

In 2016-17, ELC complaints to the NJ Department of Education’s (NJDOE) Office of Special Education Policy and Procedure (OSEPP) resulted in findings that Paterson had engaged in systemic violations of the rights of students with disabilities to special education services. OSEPP ordered corrective action, including the provision of compensatory speech-language services to affected students.

Last month, ELC again notified OSEPP of continuing reports of Paterson’s failure to provide students with legally-mandated, speech-language services.

Speech-language therapy must be provided to students with disabilities, when necessary for their educational benefit, through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). ELC is calling on OSEPP to conduct an “expedited investigation” of reports that Paterson is still not providing speech-language services as required by IEPs to eligible students in 2017-18. OSEPP has yet to respond.

Paterson’s termination of a contract with a private therapy provider in February 2017 resulted in tens of thousands of missed service hours during the 2016-17 school year. Just prior to the recent holiday break, Paterson was still actively working on a plan to implement compensatory services for last school year.  According to a notice to parents, they could ask to meet with their child’s IEP team to discuss the issue, decline compensatory services, or accept one of two compensatory packages offered by the district that leave unanswered questions about the sufficiency of the services.

If Paterson is not providing required speech-language services during the current school year, students with communication delays may be experiencing extended service interruptions and will be entitled to even more compensatory services. ELC’s letter to the school district’s attorney requesting information about this year’s services has gone unanswered.

“The NJ Department of Education must ensure students with disabilities receive mandated services,” stated ELC senior attorney Elizabeth Athos. “This duty is heightened where the State itself operates the school district. OSEPP must determine the scope of the problem and fix it.”

ELC also warned OSEPP that legal protections must be in place if Paterson intends to implement any of the missed services using “telepractice,” or speech-language services delivered via computer to a student in a different location from the therapist. In December 2017, Paterson entered into a $429,900 contract with DotCom Therapy of Missouri, a NJDOE-approved speech-language provider.

“To legally implement telepractice, there must be state regulations in place, as well as a documented inability of the district to hire sufficient in-person staff when offering competitive salaries for that position,” stated Ms. Athos. “Of critical importance, there must also be an IEP team determination that telepractice is the appropriate service delivery method for a particular child. Again, OSEPP must assure that Paterson students are not being short-changed.”

 

Related Stories:

SPECIAL EDUCATION CRISIS IN STATE-OPERATED PATERSON SCHOOLS WORSENS

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

 

Press Contact:

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