Testa Urges NJDOE to Improve Guidance for Special Education Students During Pandemic
Says Corners Being Cut on IEPs, Special Needs Students Risk Falling Behind
Senator Michael Testa urged the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to improve guidance for students with special needs and disabilities to ensure they are not left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sadly, I’ve heard heart-breaking stories about children with IEPs who are having an extremely difficult time with remote learning,” said Testa (R-1). “Many have been cut off from the various support services they rely upon when in school that maximize their potential as students. Our local children desperately needed these critical education services. This is policy failure on the part of the NJDOE that must be fixed quickly.”
Eligible students with special needs or disabilities can have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) prepared that serves as a written plan to meet the child’s educational needs.
Testa said the ability of different schools and districts to provide special education students with the full range of support services required by their IEPs has been inconsistent given the rush to develop and implement remote learning plans and virtual learning platforms this year.
In some cases, required elements of IEPs have been ignored with the blessing of the NJDOE under guidance published in April:
“This is a temporary situation, and districts must offer special education services to the most appropriate extent possible while students are away from their schools/programs. IEP teams may need to consider compensatory services when students return to school and IEPs may need to be adjusted accordingly.” – New Jersey Specific Guidance for Schools & Districts (4/13/20)
“Back in April, the NJDOE explicitly told schools they could cut corners on IEPs for remote learners since the situation was temporary,” added Testa. “We’re now nine months into remote learning, however, and they’re still content with waiting it out. Without extra support for such a prolonged period of time, many special needs students run the risk of falling behind their peers. The NJDOE shouldn’t assume that schools will be able to make up for these setbacks at a later date. They need a better plan now to get these at-risk students back on track for the remainder of the school year.”