WEST ORANGE, NJ - On November 1, the New Jersey Office of Special Education Programs rendered their decision on the complaint filed on August 23 against the West Orange School district by Susan Freivald and Alexandra DeRonde, who are also co-presidents of PASSE (Parents Advocating for Special Services in Education) along with Renay Zamloot, a Non-Attorney Education Advocate. The decision determined that the district was "accordingly determined to have been generally compliant with the special education regulations" as they pertained to the complaint, which revolved around the implementation of block scheduling and curriculum changes at Liberty and Roosevelt Middle Schools. Freivald/DeRonde argued that the schedule changes and integration of Special Needs students into World Languages courses had not been properly addressed to parents and caregivers of special needs students. The Board of Education approved the LMS and RMS Schedules on June 26, 2013.
The West Orange Department of Special Services spent the summer meeting compliance requirements for special needs students (students with IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs) as they pertained to the schedule changes at LMS and RMS. In the opening remarks in the decision received by the West Orange School district by the NJ Office of Special Education Programs, the requirements were laid out:
Students' special education programs and placements may be changed only with a formal change to their lEPs pursuant to N.JAC6A:14-3J. Changes to the IEP without a meeting may be made with written parental consent pursuant to NJA.C.6A:14-3.7(d); otherwise, an IEP meeting must be convened. Written notice of the proposed changes to students' IEPs must be provided to parents in accordance with the requirements of NJ.AC. 6A:14-23. In developing students' lEPs, districts must take into account the academic, developmental and functional needs of students, and develop a program, including appropriate modifications, supports and accommodations, for the student to progress in the general curriculum, N.JA.C. 6A:14-3J.
Interim Superintendent James O'Neill, in a statement to the Alternative Press, noted:
On Friday November 1, 2013 the district received the official report from the state Office of Special Education Programs. The investigation was the result of a complaint filed by two West Orange residents who purport to have expertise about special education issues and who profess to be knowledgeable advocates for parents of classified students. I indicated to the Board and the public at the time that I felt the charges were without merit. I am delighted to report the state has confirmed the West Orange School district not only appropriately exercised our right to modify the program but because it was within the “districts authority to organize it delivery of curriculum and instruction , it was not necessary to amend the student’s IEP’s to implement the district-wide change…. The district followed the required procedural steps to amend and implement student IEP’s.”
The official report from the state Office of Special Education Programs went on to say that:
In this matter, the West Orange Board of Education exercised its authority to modify the program of study delivered to all students at the middle school level and to ensure equal access to the curriculum, including world languages, for students with disabilities. Because it was within the district's authority to organize its delivery of curriculum and instruction, it was not necessary to amend students' IEPs to implement the district-wide change; however, in order to address the master schedule change, the district acted expeditiously to amend students' IEPs to reflect the changed curriculum. Amendments were made without meetings with written parental consent as permitted by N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.7(d); otherwise JEP meetings were scheduled to make the changes as required by N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.7 and 2.3. Written notice that met the requirements of
N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.3 was provided to the parents in the course of making the IEP changes. In those instances where lEPs have not been amended, IEP meetings have been scheduled, and the students' IEPs have been implemented in the context of the new schedule. The district followed the required procedural steps
to amend and implement students' IEPs, and is accordingly determined to have been generally compliant with the special education regulations.1 However, for those two students whose lEPs have not been amended to date, the district is directed to convene JEP meetings and consider the special education services to be delivered to them. Copies of those students' revised IEP should be provided
to OSEP within 30 days of the date of this report.
Sue Freivald and Alexandra DeRonde were contacted by the West Orange Alternative Press for their comments regarding the New Jersey Office of Special Education Programs' determination regarding their complaint:
"We appreciate the investigator's time and efforts. We filed the complaint on behalf of parents who had approached us with concerns about negative effects on their children, and because of our own concerns about compliance with the law.
While we respect the state's decision, we regret the judgment that the district-wide changes were acceptable, since this seems to ignore the foundational premise of individualized education plans (IEPs): that the individual needs of each special education student must be considered whenever the district takes action.
Also, the state's ruling does not mean that all the changes made were appropriate for all students affected by them. For instance, we appreciate that fact that Sandra Mordecai has asked the superintendent to look into whether severely impaired 8th grade students from self-contained classes have been placed in freshman-level general ed World Language without consideration of their needs and level of functioning. Instead of taking them out of World Language or providing other instruction they need, such as reading, district staff are simply making the World Language classes pass/fail, even telling parents that as long as the child attends class, they will pass. This is not appropriate for either the struggling students with special needs, whose time is being wasted, nor all the other students in the class who must work hard to get good grades in World Language. We look forward to working with the district on solving these remaining problems."
Interim Superintendent O'Neill, however, was pleased with the decision of the State Office of Special Education Programs determination regarding the complaint, and went on to say:
"The district spent an excessive amount of time, money and manpower to prove what we were doing was correct all along. The individuals who filed this complaint have professed to discover district wrong doing in other areas of our operation. They not only owe an apology to the district but to the taxpayers who have underwritten the cost of the investigation.
Some local publications found filing of the complaint to be front page news. Perhaps this news will get the same attention."