SOMA SEPAC Meeting Notes 10-22-13

SEPAC MEETING for South Orange Maplewood School District

Tuesday October 22, 2013 7-9pm

District Meeting Room 525 Academy Street

Maplewood NJ 07040

SEPAC President Jane Bleasdale welcomed everyone and encouraged attendees to use the first 30 minutes of the meeting (7-7:30pm) to network with other parents, share personal experiences, and learn from the experiences of others.

Clinton Elementary Special Education Teachers Jennifer Cudmore and Mara Liebowitz, the evening’s guest speakers, then provided a presentation on assistive technology.  They demonstrated how they use a number of web sites, software packages, and applications in the classroom to help students with learning differences to access the curricula, improve their skills, and build their confidence.  Their slides with the lists of technologies they recommend will be posted on the SEPAC web site.

Following the presentation, the discussion turned to the State Department of Education’s Consolidated Monitoring Report, which cited the District for noncompliance in a number of areas of State-funded services to special educations students.  The Board of Education (BOE) discussed this report and the District’s Corrective Action Plan at their August 2013 meeting.  Some SEPAC members stated that the problems cited by the State confirm parents’ concerns regarding poor communication with parents and inconsistency of policy and practice.  

Two members of the BOE were present and offered suggestions for how the group could move forward specifically to  focus on the areas where the District administration is ‘appealed’, meaning it disagrees with the states assessment, to see if these are areas where parents have similar concerns.

Where the District’s Corrective Action Plan calls for Child Study Team training, SEPAC members are very interested in learning what and when that training will be.  The Executive Committee will follow up with Dr. Barker and keep the group informed via email and its web site.

Other topics raised at the meeting included:

  • Medicaid reimbursement forms – while some parents received this notice in the mail with an FAQ, others were handed it in IEP meetings.   Many parents were confused by the lack of context – in lay language – and potential implications for their children’s services, their insurance coverage, etc.  Questions also arose regarding whether the Medicaid reimbursements to the District would be reinvested in special education services.
  • Transitions, especially from 5th to 6th grade, and ensuring that IEPs were honored from one child study team to another.
  • Delays in evaluations, cursory evaluations, and redirection of parents to seek private evaluations at their own expense instead.
  • Parents feeling pressured by Child Study Teams to pursue a 504 versus and IEP
  • Building Principals creating co-teaching pairs that appeared incompatible or dysfunctional, and when asked about this, Special Services staff stated their inability to affect changes.
  • How can parents get more information and share their experiences to help one another navigate the various stages of the system and effectively advocate for their children.

It was noted that some of these issues fall under the SEPAC 2013-14 priorities formulated after 2012-13 meetings and shared with the District on October 7, 2013.  That letter will be shared with the SEPAC email list and posted on the SEPAC web site.

Other follow up items for SEPAC Executive Committee (and hopefully more volunteers) to take on before the group meets again are: 

  • Status of District’s Corrective Action Plan to address issues in the NJDOE Consolidated Monitory Report
  • Status of the Inclusion Committee
  • Creating a vehicle for parent feedback and input between SEPAC meetings
  • Review/revision of District Guide to Special Education with the goal of making it more user friendly

The meeting closed with a reiteration of the SEPAC goals for 2013 -2014

  1. Strengthened communications between parents, schools, administration and board (including a review of district/school web sites and the Guide to Special Education handbook);
  2. Better understanding of policies and practice in the area of school personnel (i.e. the role of the Child Study Team, the caseworker, the principal and the special education teacher);
  3. A review of district goals and the development of a District goal that specifically addresses students with special needs; and
  4. Ongoing education and advocacy in the areas of state and federal policies on special education.