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CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Many children in our schools have special needs. They include children with disabilities; students who live in economically disadvantaged school districts; children from impoverished families; and students whose primary language is not English. In all cases, the educational needs of these students must be met by school districts by providing whatever support or accommodations are necessary. All of these areas require parent involvement and advocacy to assure that school districts adequately serve their children with special needs.
Students with disabilities are protected under federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as well as state law. These laws require school districts to provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) to eligible students. This means that children with disabilities are entitled to special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs. If parents believe that their child may need special education services, they can request that the local school district evaluate the child. Parents then become members of a team that will make decisions about the student’s education through the creation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Parents’ input and role in this process are important since they are involved in determining what action will be taken to address their child’s needs. DOE has developed a booklet to assist parents in understanding their role and rights under the law so they can advocate for their child. The publication, Parental Rights in Special Education (PRISE), is available in multiple languages through local schools district or DOE’s Web site.
DOE does not have the authority to make individual determinations about a specific child’s evaluation, eligibility, IEP or placement. That responsibility is a requirement of the local school district and the IEP team. Children with disabilities have protections in the law to safeguard their rights to a FAPE. The department provides mediation and due process hearings to resolve disputes. The process is outlined in PRISE. The department also provides complaint investigations and monitors districts to assure legal requirements are met.
More information is available in Special Education.
LIMITED ENGLISH PROFICIENT STUDENTS (LEP)
The New Jersey Administrative Code, Chapter 6A:15-1.3 requires all school districts to identify eligible limited English proficient (LEP) students at the time of enrollment. Each district board of education must maintain a census indicating all students whose native language is other than English. It also must report annually to DOE the total number of students identified in the census whose native language is other than English and, of that group, the number who are LEP students.
The district board of education must develop a screening process to determine which students, of those whose native language is other than English, must be tested to determine English language proficiency. This prescreening must be conducted by a certified teacher with a background in bilingual education or English as a second language (ESL). It must be designed to distinguish those students who are fluent English speakers from those whose English speech and comprehension are affected by lack of language proficiency.
Of those who are not screened out, the district must determine the English language proficiency of all K-12 students whose native language is other than English by administering an English language proficiency test to assess the level of reading in English. In addition, the district must review the previous academic performance of students, as well as standardized tests in English, and review the input of teaching staff members responsible for the educational program for LEP students. Students declared to be LEP may have problems in one of the areas listed above and also do not meet the standards of a language proficiency test approved by DOE. The district must also use other measures appropriate to the ages of the children being tested to determine whether the best instruction for LEP students is in a bilingual or ESL program, or to be mainstreamed in a regular classroom.
Once the district has identified the language proficiency of students, it must provide the levels of programs and services necessary to enable the LEP students to meet the Core Curriculum Content Standards in accordance with N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-4 and 5. Whenever there are 20 or more LEP students in any single language classification enrolled in the district, a bilingual education program must be offered in that language.
More information is available in Title 6A, Chapter 15 -- Bilingual Education.
Approximately 450 school districts in New Jersey receive Title I federal funds, which are administered based on student poverty rates, to serve low-performing students. Students who are not performing at an academically proficient level, primarily in language arts and mathematics, can receive Title I remedial and intervention services. The services are generally provided in class by assigning an additional teacher or paraprofessional to provide more individual assistance to low-performing students. Title I funds can support additional instruction through extended-day, -week or -year programs. These after-school, Saturday and summer programs focus on boosting students’ academic skills by lengthening the time spent on learning in the school setting. Title I funds also provide professional development for teachers and staff who serve Title I students and parental involvement activities.
In schools with 40 percent or more poverty, Title I funds can be used to support approved schoolwide improvement programs to upgrade the total school population’s academic performance. These schools focus on changing the total school program by using a more comprehensive reform approach.
Decisions about the provision of Title I services must be made with the input of parents of eligible children. Schools also encourage parents to be actively involved with their child’s education by signing a school-parent compact that outlines how schools and parents will work together to support the child’s educational progress. Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) parents’ right-to-know provision, parents must receive certain notifications regarding the qualifications of their children’s teachers.
Under NCLB, all schools must meet federally approved proficiency levels on state assessments; if they fall short for two consecutive years, the school is classified as “in need of improvement.” A progressive set of interventions apply to Title I schools in need of improvement depending on how many consecutive years the school has failed to meet proficiency standards in language arts literacy and mathematics. Some of the interventions provide parents additional options such as school choice and supplemental educational services. Title I schools in need of improvement must also provide parents with notification of the school’s status and should include parents in the development of the school’s plan for improvement. Districts may also be designated for improvement status and must notify parents of the designation.