By ERIN ROLL
Although the overall number of special education students dropped last school year, the district saw an increase in the number of students it sent out-of-district, and with it, an increase in money spent for special ed. The district will spend even more next year with the projection of an increase of 28 special education students who will go out of district for their education.
The district presented its annual end-of-year report on pupil services on June 17.
The report tracked the number of classified students in the district’s 11 schools, broken down into in-district placement, out-of-district placement and the Developmental Learning Center, a program that the district operates for preschool-age children.
Students classified with autism, rose to 158 from 146 in 2017-2018.
In other categories, the number of classified students saw a decline. The number of students classified as emotionally disturbed declined from 95 in 2017-2018 to 75 in 2018-2019. Students with multiple disabilities went from 136 students in 2017-2018 to 105 in 2018-2019. For students with specific learning disabilities, the number of classified students went from 310 in 2017-2018 to 272 in 2018-2019.
Students classified as “other health impaired,” or having other health conditions that require special accommodations, rose from 423 to 443 in 2018-2019.
Montclair High School had the highest number of classified students: 366, down from 374.
Edgemont had the smallest number of classified students with 18 down from 25.
The number of students placed out-of-district for the 2018-2019 school year was 101 up from 89 for the 2017-2018 school year.
At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, the district approved 64 placements, with $6.4 in tuition and $952,000 for aide services for those students. Over the course of the school year, the district approved placements for an additional 35 students, with an additional $1.8 million in funding.
For the 2019-2020 school year, as of June 17, the district approved 92 students to be sent out of district to specialized schools. It is anticipated that the district will spend $7.55 million for those tuition costs.
The tuition costs at specialized schools range from $10,065 at Ho-Ho-Kus School to $126,798 at the Institute for Educational Achievement.
Historically, tuition payments for out-of-district students have been one of the most significant expenses in the school district’s budget.
For the 2018-2019 school year, 1,096 students were classified as special needs students, with 64 students in the Developmental Learning Center: 1,160 in-district students in total. That’s down from the previous year’s number of 1,127 students in the 11 schools, and 72 in the Developmental Learning Center: 1,199 in-district students in total.
The report also tracked how many students requiring special services moved into Montclair in a given school year. In 2017-2018, 77 students classified as needing special services moved into the district. For 2018-2019, 51 moved in.
Students who attend school in district are provided services based on the recommendations in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Students may be assigned an aide who works one-to-one with them or with a group of other children, and they may either attend classes in a self-contained classroom or in a mainstream classroom.
This year, however, the district has not yet released the breakdown of classified students by race, gender or ethnicity.
In contrast, for the 2017-2018 school year, the end-of-year presentation included a breakdown, by school, of classified students’ race, gender and ethnicity.
District-wide last year, there were 683 white students in special services, 580 African-American or black students, 178 Hispanic or Latino students, 68 Asian students, 10 Native American students and 57 students who identified as mixed-race.
Overall, boys were more likely than girls to be classified into special services. In 2017-2018, there were 1,041 boys in special services, and 529 girls.
At most of the schools, white students had the largest representation among classified students. At Hillside, Glenfield and Montclair High School, however, African-American students accounted for the highest numbers of classified students, and at Charles H. Bullock School, the representation was almost exactly the same: 50 white students and 49 black students.
Montclair parents and civil rights groups have raised concerns about students of color, especially African-American boys, being disproportionately more likely to be classified into special education classes.
The report recommended, in its list of things to be accomplished in the coming school year, that the district pay more attention to life transition skills for high school-age special needs students. The program sends students out to work on internships, and to practice life skills like shopping for groceries or taking public transportation.
Plans are also in the works to have more professional development opportunities for the district’s paraprofessionals.