The New Jersey Department of Education's Office of Special Education programs has determined that the district didn't provide speech therapy sessions to 43 of the 116 special education students at School No. 2 who were supposed to get the help. The failure stretched from the start of the school year in September 2010 until December 2010 in some cases and January in others.
"In this case, there is no dispute that due to staffing shortages the district did not provide speech services as required by the IEPs (Individualized Education Program) of 43 students in School #2,'' wrote Dolores Walther, coordinator of complaint investigations for the New Jersey education department's office of special education programs, in an April 13 letter to the Newark-based Education Law Center, the advocacy group that filed a complaint on behalf of the children.
The Education Law Center released a copy of the letter on May 6, when it issued a press release about the state's findings. Back in February, the state had issued another report that, among other things, said city schools failed to provide extended school year services for preschoolers during the 2010-2011 school year and failed to evaluate and refer preschool children for services they needed.
The school district's special education failings first came to light last fall, when parents began attending board of education meetings to complain. District officials acknowledged that the 2010 staff layoffs, which affected about 400 employees, left them short of the number of special education teachers they needed.
Officials also said that the state-imposed spending and hiring freeze, which was in effect from September through the end of April, delayed their efforts to fill the special education vacancies.
In the special education report issued on April 13, state officials said the district has resumed providing the services required. But the report also said the district must provide compensatory services to make up for the sessions that were missed between September and January.
"Parents need to know that they have a right to compensatory speech-language services that actually make up for the denial of therapies to their particular child, and that they are entitled to participate in the decision of how the school district will deliver those services," said Lauren Michaels, an attorney with the Education Law Center, in a press release.
"We are currently contracting for IEP and compensatory services at School #2,'' said Paterson Public Schools spokeswoman Terry Corallo. "In addition, we are in the process of hiring three speech/language specialists to fill the vacancies at School 2."
In its complaint, the law center said School No. 2 had only two full-time speech therapists for special education students when it was supposed to have four.
"Now that the spending and hiring freeze has been lifted, this should remove any obstacles that the district may have had to immediately hiring sufficient personnel and expending the resources necessary to completely implement all students' IEPs," said Michaels. "Even at this point in the school year, there is no excuse to delay providing needed educational services to hundreds of children in Paterson."