WEST ORANGE, NJ - Director of Special Services Connie Salimbeno provided the Board of Education and community with an update regarding the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Settlement at Monday night's meeting.
The lawsuit, filed in 2007 by Disability Rights New Jersey, the Education Law Center, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and the ARC of New Jersey, alleged that the New Jersey State Department of Education "failed to provide a a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities.
While West Orange was not determined to be out of compliance with the law, the township was identified along with 75 other districts during the 2007 study via district placement data (NJSMART) reviewed by NJDOE. The district was not told which determinant(s) were applicable to them, which were:
High rate of students in separate special education placements when compared to other districts in the state, the nation, and SPP targets; high rate of students in general education classes less than 40 percent of the school day; high rate of preschoolers with IEPs educated in separate settings; disproportionate representations of specific racial/ethnic groups in separate placements; multiple year trends.
As a result, Salimbeno explained, the district has been working on Phase One - Needs Assessment, including the collection of data, completion of LRE questionnaires, visits from the NJDOE, and an eventual response to the data from NJDOE, expected in December.
Phases Two through Four will continue through 2018 and will include monitoring, technical assistance, and training.
NJDOE visited Edison, Roosevelt, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasantdale, and West Orange High School between Sept. 22-24, visiting special needs classes, talking to teachers, administrators and parents.
"The state said every one of our schools and programs was streamlined, organized, and student-friendly," said Salimbeno. "They enjoyed talking with everyone and spent more time with us than they said they needed to."
Superintendent Jeff Rutzky said the district had already identified Intervention and Referral Services (I&RS) as an area that needed refinement across all schools. "We want every building to have strategies for success," he said.
"We will get master teachers together to come up with those district-wide strategies," he continued.
Both Salimbeno and Rutzky said they viewed the process as an opportunity to improve.
"It's going to take a lot of work to complete our goals," said Rutzky, "but we expect great outcomes."
"This will make a great district even better," noted Salimbeno.
In other news, Rutzky apprised the Board there will be a Testing Results Presentation at the next BOE meeting on Oct. 20. Dr. Donna Rando discussed the Week of Respect, going on now in all West Orange Schools, and the special events and programming planned.
John Calavano, the new Board Secretary, was present for his first meeting and said he 'was excited to be here,' as part of the board.
The Board discussed last week's bomb threat at Redwood Elementary School and lauded the staff for their efforts on behalf of ensuring the safety of the children. Rutzky said that his Assistant Elizabeth Hughes would be sending out School Messenger notifications to parents whenever any type of important emergency communication was required.