The DOE, that is. In yet another example of overreaching and/or lack of due diligence, the new regulations issued as Fiscal Accountablility, Efficiency and Budgeting Procedures N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-1 create 21 new positions called Executive County Superintendents, one for each county and each appointed by the Governor. The ECS’s (each apparently wearing a form-fitting suit under his or her work clothes branded with a bright red ECS insignia in case of educational apocalypse) have enormous authority: line-item veto of local budgets, consolidation of transportation, regionalization of districts, etc. One of the other powers they wield is the oversight of placements for kids with special needs. This has excited the ire of groups like ASAH, which represents private special ed schools and agencies in NJ.
Why? Because the process for deciding on the placement for a child classified as disabled is pretty much set in stone as part of the federal IDEA legislation. Here’s how it works: a Child Study Team, composed of the kid’s teachers, therapists, case manager, and parents compose an annual Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) that sets out the year’s educational goals, services, adaptive technology, social needs. For example, an I.E.P. will list goals and timelines for reading, math, social studies, science, how many speech, physical, occupational therapy sessions are required per week, whether the child needs voice-recognition software or an FM hearing system or braille books, whether the child requires social skills training. Only after the I.E.P. is completed is placement discussed. The law specifies that the child needs to be in the “least restricted environment,” and the Child Study Team looks at options. The I.E.P., a legal contract, serves as the engine and rationale for placement.
But the DOE in all its wisdom, as part of A:6, has inserted the ECS into the works, giving our superhero the right to recommend other placements and requiring the Child Study Team to submit paperwork explaining their decision. Here’s one of ASAH’s objections:
In 2007, nearly 23,000 students with disabilities in New Jersey were placed in out-of-district programs. It will be impossible for the Executive County Superintendent to review this many requests. This has the potential to cause violations in time line requirements and defeats the purpose of the new office which is to help ensure efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
So now the DOE is backtracking again. After extensive lobbying efforts, the Assembly Education Committee agreed to hold an invitation-only “roundtable discussion” on February 26th to discuss concerns over the long arm of the ECS’s in regards to special education placement. While Commissioner Lucille Davy, according to an NJSBA press release, responded “that the superintendents only review such placements, and that local districts still make the determination to place a student out of district,” the Assembly Education Committee “may seek to introduce legislation which clarifies the role of the executive county superintendent.”
Yet another example of an error in judgment on the part of the DOE. Someone’s stockpiling kryptonite.