WESTFIELD, NJ – Prior to addressing regular agenda items, the Westfield board of education outlined available services for students with special needs during Tuesday night’s meeting.
Led by Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Dr. Michael Weissman, the presentation provided statistics showing that 1,119 Westfield students were eligible for special education in the 2015-16 school year with 92 percent of students served within the district’s placements.
As of Oct. 15, 2015, the classification rate of students eligible to enroll in special education courses (excluding those with speech-only IEPs) was 17.7 percent, just above the state average of 16.47 percent.
“We don’t declassify a tremendous number of students. If you have a disability, it tends to be lifelong, but we do have situations where students get less and less service over time,” Dr. Weissman said. “We’ve seen pre-schoolers, who in early intervention, never need anything after the pre-school program. They strengthen their skills cognitively and rhetorically and never need us again.”
According to Weissman, one of the major tasks of the Westfield school district is to ensure that services begin in the “least restrictive environment” as labeled by the Department of Education.
“The goal is always to provide services in general education so that students are exposed to typical peers as much as possible,” Weissman said. “In maintaining students in general education, we make modifications and accommodations based on those students’ individual needs.”
The continuum of services presented by Weissman lists resource room programs, specialized resource programs, self-contained special classes and separate private schools, respectively, from least restrictive to most restrictive after general education.
Currently, there are four primary services for children ages 3-6, including a fully-integrated pre-school program, a pre-school disabled program, a full-day Leaps and Bounds program for autism and a full-day transitional self-contained kindergarten program.
Elementary programs for grades 1-5 are split between three schools, with McKinley and Tamaques each hosting two traditional language-based services and Wilson providing one learning and behavioral/emotional support-based service. There are two Leaps and Bounds classes available for elementary students, both at Wilson school.
For grades 6-8, Westfield has made both I Prep and Effective School Solutions (ESS) available. While I Prep specializes a curriculum for students who need more structure and individualized instruction, ESS primarily focuses on the social and emotional needs for students. Weissman reminded the board that Roosevelt school has two full-time licensed clinical social workers on staff.
ESS services is also available for high school students in Westfield, along with the Prep Program and Bridge Program.
According to Weissman, the areas of focus going forward for the Westfield district are to continue the success of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs for students with Autism and expand to the intermediate level while containing out-of-district placements. Additionally, Weissman’s team will look to train staff in screening for remediation of dyslexia while providing students with multisensory reading programs.
More information about Westfield’s special services is available on the district website.