By ERIN ROLL
Montclair received a perfect score on a special education compliance report from the New Jersey Department of Education.
The report comes five years after Montclair and 75 other New Jersey districts were placed under a New Jersey Department of Education monitoring program. A lawsuit filed in 2007 in the United States District Court for New Jersey by Disability Rights New Jersey, the Education Law Center, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and Arc of Essex County, accused those districts of not being in full compliance with following “least restrictive education guidelines,” or mainstreaming special education students into the general classroom.
Under New Jersey state law, students with special needs must be educated as much as possible next to their peers. The lawsuit, which was settled in 2014, alleged the 76 districts were not providing students with in-class accommodations and support networks, and therefore not offering all special education students a least restrictive environment.
As part of the settlement, the 76 districts were placed under monitoring by the state Department of Education.
Montclair was one of seven districts in Essex County being monitored as a result of the suit, the others being Bloomfield, East Orange, Irvington, Livingston, Newark and South Orange-Maplewood. All of the districts were found to be in full compliance with 100 percent grades, except for Newark, which got a grade of 56 percent.
According to NJDOE documents released after the settlement, the districts chosen for monitoring had a disproportionately high number of students attending special education classes, compared to other districts in the state, a high rate of students being in general education classes for less than 40 percent of the school day, a high rate of preschoolers with IEPs being educated separately from their general education peers, and a disproportionately high representation of certain racial/ethnic groups in separate special education classes.
For the 2017-2018 school year, the most recent data year available, 18.2 percent of Montclair’s students were classified as having disabilities. On the state level, 17.1 percent of students that year were classified as having disabilities.
In Montclair, the district has seen a disproportionately high number of students of color, particularly African American boys, being placed into special education classes, according to the data.
The monitoring process started in 2014. In January 2019, the NJDOE began issuing final reports to the districts and to other stakeholders.
The monitoring process included NJDOE providing seminars and professional training to staff in the 76 districts, and meetings with parent groups in each district.
Board of Education President Eve Robinson said it was reassuring when the district received a good score on the report, and referred further comment to district administration.
The nine areas that were monitored are:
- • The child is educated with non-disabled students to the greatest extent possible.
- • Consideration was given to whether students can be educated in a general education classroom with supplementary aids and services.
- • The student’s individualized education plan (IEP) included a comparison of benefits provided in the general education class and the special education class.
- • The IEP includes the potentially beneficial or harmful effects that a general education placement may have on either the student with disabilities or the other students in the class.
- • For students in separate settings, the IEP includes activities to move the student to a less restrictive setting.
- • A full range of alternative placements is available.
- • The child is educated, to the greatest extent possible, closest to home, or in the school they would attend if not disabled.
- • The child is not removed from general education classrooms simply because of needed modifications to the general education curriculum.
- Children with special needs are allowed and encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities alongside their peers.