ASAH, the organization that serves private special education schools and agencies in New Jersey, is gearing up for a battle with the DOE over the newly-issued 178-page draft of regulations called the School District Accountability, Efficiency, and Budgeting Procedures. This hefty document broadens the sweeping authority of Executive County Superintendents (ECS’s) and includes specific rules that attempt to infringe on the ability of Child Study Teams to place special education students in appropriate placements.
Can you really blame the DOE? New Jersey has the highest rate in the entire country — 9% — of students placed in “out-of-district placements,” i.e., schools and programs not within the home school district of the child. The average across the country is 3%. Typically, these programs cost much more than in-district placements, ranging from $30,000 to over $100,00 per year, and that doesn’t include transportation.
ASAH argues, however, that according to the Federal law IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), placement decisions must be made by the Child Study Team, and the insertion of the ECS is violates Federal law. (For the full scope of their objections see here.)
It’s not that hard a stretch to figure out why we send so many kids out of district: home rule. Let’s say you have a kid in an average-sized New Jersey district who is hearing-impaired or multiply-disabled or autistic. In order to put together an appropriate classroom, you’d need about 6 of these kids. But the small size of our local schools precludes a large enough population to garner the appropriate numbers, and Federal law demands that schools provide FAPE, or a Free and Appropriate Education. Solution? Send the kid to an out-of-district school at a much higher cost than educating the child within the home district, sacrificing any sort of inclusive model.
If our districts were larger, we’d have the cohorts to put in-district special education classes together. But we don’t, and the DOE’s attempt to control costs through the intrusion of the ECS probably won’t survive a court challenge.