To: Education Law Center, Chris Christie, Cami Anderson, Brad Haggerty, President Donald Trump, The New Jersey State House, The New Jersey State Senate, Governor Phil Murphy, The United States House of Representatives, and The United States ...
One NJ Principal Takes a Bold Stand Against the Systematic Neglect of Special Education Students ...
Like many public schools across the country, New Jersey's Newark Public Schools are under attack by their own leadership. Many Newark students, residents, and district employees agree on state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson's gross mismanagement of the city's schools. Her policies have adversely affected its most vulnerable populations, particularly students with special needs. This year, the projected number of incoming Special Education (SPED) freshmen for Central High School, a comprehensive public high school, increased yet again. This is a direct result of the adoption of Anderson's One Newark Plan, an enrollment system that uses a biased algorithm to carelessly spread students across the district. Current projections indicate there will be 80 new Freshman SPED students, representing 29% of the total incoming Freshmen class, which the school cannot accommodate in compliance with law. The district percentage of special needs is 15%. That makes Central's Freshman SPED population 93% over the district’s average. Ignoring this phenomenon is a blatant attempt to create hardships in comprehensive schools in order for them to fail. Our principal, Sharnee Brown, has boldly taken action to fight this attack on Central High School's students, staff, and community.
Why is this important?
Superintendent Cami Anderson
Newark Public Schools
2 Cedar Street
Newark, New Jersey 07108
Dear Cami Anderson & Brad Haggerty,
As this exhausting school year comes to a close, and while I look at my information via Salesforce with complete dismay, I am disappointed that even this year, the district will not address a deep concern that I have had for the last three years about the overwhelming influx of students with special needs being matched to Central High School.
On June 2, 2014, I sent a three page letter to Dr. Katzman, Brad Haggerty, Dr. Honnick and you, Superintendent Cami Anderson, detailing my disagreement and resistance to the plan to send 70 students with disabilities out of 216 freshmen to Central High School. Of the 70 special needs students, 70% of them were improperly placed at Central High School, which is illegal under IDEA and federal guidelines. The reality is that there are no programs at Central to accommodate their needs. When students are inappropriately placed, we are immediately out of state compliance and unable to implement their IEPs. Central currently has two programs: in class support (RCI) and Autism. When I conveyed my concern and provided sound reasoning to my supervisors and to the director of OSE, I was met with resistance and even punished with poor evaluative comments on Competency 5 of my evaluation because I spoke up and addressed this issue. However, I cannot and will not sit idly by and witness the neglect of Central High School without trying desperately to get the district to hear my concerns about how we are being affected by these decisions.
Two school years prior in 2013-2014, we at Central High School have never recovered from the One Newark enrollment plan. It has taken toll on our teacher morale and energy. In 2013-2014, Central High School was adversely affected by the open student enrollment process. We submitted our projected budgets in February 2013, and six months later we received more students than anticipated. We went from accepting a freshman class of about 175 in 2012-2013 to accepting a class of 255 in 2013 – 2014. Of the 255 students, we received an unprecedented amount of special needs students, 58, to service. (58) Also, to compound the issue, many of the 58 special education students had classifications for which Central High School did not have the required programs to accommodate their Individual Educational Plan mandates, which details their academic and emotional needs. For example, we received approximately 12 Emotionally Disturbed students, and we do not have a Behavioral Disabilities program to meet their therapeutic, socio-emotional and academic needs. Also, 14 Learning Disabilities-Severe freshmen were sent to us, even though, we do not have a program to service their needs. We are also out of compliance in the Autism program lacking a sufficient number of educational aides. Our plea for adequate staffing has been an on-going struggle in the district. This struggle for adequate staffing has caused overcrowding with many teachers forced to teach extra classes. In addition other grade levels currently have substitute teachers due to a lack of staff, and SPED classes are out of compliance due to a lack of resources and staff. All of these compounded issues negatively impacted the culture, morale, and learning environment causing frustration to the teachers, students and administration. We are still trying to ameliorate many of the unresolved issues aforementioned.
As previously stated, Central High School only has two Special Education programs. We have an in class support program and a program for our autistic students. The autism program has had its challenges because it was started with little to no support or direction from the district. We have managed to endure. However, parents are still angry due to the District's non-compliance. Two parents either sought out of district placement or have formed legal cases to ensure compliance. Being out of compliance is a serious matter! When the district makes decisions to send the students to Central inappropriately, I AM THE ONE WHOSE NAME APPEARS ON THE SUBPOENA, as well as the child study team when parents pursue legal action.
At best, we have the capacity to service about 25 to 35 SLD students on each grade level. Prior to the extreme school closings and prior to the open enrollment, accepting students from our feeder patterns allowed us to maintain a serviceable number of special education students. However with the open student enrollment process, Central High School received triple that number, forcing us to not service students because we do not have the programs, causing us to be out of compliance, adversely affecting school climate, and creating a major disservice to the students who will be improperly placed. It is the district’s responsibility to place special needs students in their correct learning environments, especially since local schools do not have the authority or input regarding student enrollment. Compliance is not just important. It is the law.
This school year (2014-2015) was even more frustrating. Despite my concern and my many attempts to stop the influx of 70 SPED students at the beginning of the year, we continued to get students with disabilities everyday throughout the One Newark Enrollment process. In a normal year, we would receive only 25 to 35 freshmen SPED students, but our special needs population tripled! From 2012-2013 to 2013 to 2014, the freshmen SPED enrollment increased by 120%. From 2013-2014 to 2014-2015, the freshmen special needs enrollment increased by 21%. For the 2014-2015 to 2015-2016, the freshmen SPED enrollment will increase by an additional 15% with no increase in staff due to district mandated budget cuts at Central High School. Overall, within three school years, Central’s SPED FRESHMEN POPULATION INCREASED BY A WHOPPING 220%. I have only included the increases of the freshmen class! All ...