Newark school administrators now working for newly appointed state superintendent Christopher Cerf are trying to force the city’s special education teachers and specialists to persuade the parents of the neediest of the city’s children to buy into a special “pathway” that could rob the students of much needed services.
At meetings a few weeks ago, members of child study teams (CST) were given literal scripts to read to parents over the phone or in person in an effort to talk the mothers and fathers into abandoning self-contained, special needs classrooms for their children in favor of so-called “all-inclusive” classes that mix special needs students with the regular population.
The script, obtained by this site, reads as if the teachers, social workers and psychologists were employed in selling new appliances to the parents rather than engaging in what could be a life-altering decision to change their children’s educational program. One script opens:
“We are calling to share exciting news about special education programs for the 2015-2016 school year,” it reads. “Newark Public School (cq) has created special education pathways for students with disabilities to increase opportunities to be educated in the general education program.”
It concludes with the blatant half-truth: “Research has shown that students educated in the general education classroom show more growth than their self-contained peers.”
The truth is that, indeed, some special education students show more growth in general education programs, while others do not. A comprehensive study conducted by Princeton University reached this conclusion :
“The research does not support full-time inclusion for all students with disabilities. On the contrary, it appears that there is a clear need for special education. At the same time, given adequate resources, schools should be able to assist more students to be more successful in general education settings.”
In fact, the general consensus is that what matters is not placement but the programs offered to children. Some students do better in self-contained classes for special needs student while some do not.
But that’s not what teachers and specialists–educators who know better–have been told to tell parents about the efforts of the state regime in Newark. Indeed, teachers themselves have been criticized for their alleged failure to talk mothers and fathers into shifting their children into the general population.
Not only were the teachers told to act like salesmen and saleswomen for the state’s efforts to cut back on programs for special education students, the instructors also were given forms that, if filled out and signed by parents, their children would be denied the special education instruction they were already receiving. The form allows the district to change the so-called IEP–“individualized education plan”–for each student without a meeting between educators and parents.
IEPs are the parents’ strongest protections against efforts–like this one–to strip needed protections from children because of their cost or because state-appointed administrators want to promote charter schools that don’t have special education programs. The IEPs have virtually the force of law. Critics of former superintendent Cami Anderson–since replaced by Cerf in a deal that is supposed to bring local control back to Newark–have filed both state and federal law suits contending the district is not properly following IEPs.
This is what the teducators are supposed to be saying to the parents:
“We’d like your permission to prepare the IEP amendment so that we can provide you with a copy to sign next week and so that (student name) can start the new school year in the best environment.”
The form, in big, bold-faced block letters, is called “REQUEST TO AMEND AN IEP WITHOUT A MEETING.”
The effort to turn licensed professional educators into pitchmen for persuading parents to give up the rights of their special needs children was conducted during a series of meetings throughout the city during which the school employees were criticized for not recommending more children to the so-called “all-inclusive” alternatives.
One of the meetings was conducted by Peter Turnamian, an assistant superintendent and founder of a failed Newark charter school. Turnamian criticized the special education teachers and specialists for their alleged failure to send more and more children to so-called “all-inclusion” classrooms–and he demanded that they work with parents to persuade them to seek a “least restrictive environment.”
“Yes, we all know there are benefits in moving some children–that’s some children–from self-contained classrooms for special needs students to all-inclusive classrooms,” said one special education teacher after the meeting with Turnamian.
“But we also know many special needs children do better in self-contained classrooms where they receive closer and more focused attention.”
The teacher spoke anonymously because colleagues who had openly challenged Turnamian at the meeting were subjected to criticism and veiled threats. In Newark, school employees who voice opinions contrary to state policy often face retribution.
The effort to shut down self-contained classrooms for special needs students began well before May’s meetings, however. Teachers have complained that trying to get the state-run system to classify special needs children and provide proper placement for them has been stymied by a school administration that is trying to save money by reducing the number of special education students.
“First, they brought the kids back from out-of-district placements because that cost too much–never mind whether it helped the children or not,” said one special education teacher.
“The point was to save money. Then they shut down schools dedicated to the most severely disabled–now they are pushing all-inclusion as a panacea.”
Teachers pointed out that the alternatives pushed by Turnamian in his talk about “special pathways” often simply do not exist.
“Sure they’re talking about adding teachers to a regular classroom but we know that those teachers simply aren’t available–so the services they are supposed to provide won’t be available.”
Eliminating special programs for the neediest children will, of course, save money for a district that the state administration has driven into a $65 million budget ditch. But the state administration has another reason for removing children from self-contained classrooms. If, as Turnamian is trying to force them to do, the educators talk parents into giving up their rights in their IEPs, the children will be eligible for inclusion in the so-called “One Newark” enrollment plan.
The charter schools participating in the plan–some of them to gain more students at the expense of neighborhood public schools–often simply do not have the resources to take in special needs students. Placing them in charter schools would violate both state and federal law–unless, of course, parents agree to waive their IEP rights.
This site has reported on the efforts to use “One Newark” as a method of reserving neighborhood public schools for the neediest children while dispersing the rest among charter schools. Critics view it as part of an inevitable cycle to turn public schools into failures while helping to boost the fortunes of privately-operated charter schools.
Turnamian, once a principal in Montclair, was the founder of The Greater Newark Charter School. He called it the “best” school in Newark. It turned out not to be so great after all. It failed. Just days before Cami Anderson was forced out by Gov. Christie and replaced with Cerf, he wrote an op-ed for nj.com in which he praised what Anderson was doing.
Could he be wrong about special education, too?