PATERSON — Virtually all the city’s public elementary students are getting little to no music and art classes, according to a complaint from an advocacy group.
In a letter Thursday to the superintendent and state education commissioner, Elizabeth Athos, senior attorney with the Education Law Center, wrote that the district is violating state and federal law by depriving students this school year of arts and music instruction.
“Children who have been learning instruments in school have been devastated this year to find their instruction abruptly taken away, with no substitute services provided,” Athos stated in the letter.
Students have gone from learning about the “works of great artists” to passing the time in art class with crayons and paper, the letter asserted.
The Paterson Education Organizing Committee delivered its own letter to the superintendent, Donnie Evans, at Wednesday’s school board meeting. It stated that only three schools are still offering arts programs to lower-grade students.
“These opportunities are available elsewhere, but not Paterson. Why?” said committee President Jacqueline McAnnuff, who said her 8-year-old son, Muaawiyah, wants to learn violin but has no opportunity to do so in the public schools.
This school year the district reduced, but did not eliminate, fine arts education programs, Evans said in a statement Monday. He made no promises about bringing the classes back.
“We are currently assessing our budget priorities for the 2011-2012 school year,” Evans said. “The outcome of this assessment … will influence the amount of fine arts services that will be provided for the coming year.”
The district has struggled since tight state funding forced hundreds of layoffs in the spring and a state-imposed hiring freeze in September. State officials project a district budget shortfall as much as $12 million, though local officials dispute this.
In the last three months the Law Center has filed three complaints with the state over Paterson‘s failure to provide disabled elementary students and preschoolers with mandated therapies. The district agreed that 225 preschoolers were not receiving the therapy and has asked the state to allow it to hire 30 more teachers. It is unclear whether the state will allow the additional staffing.
The state was to respond to the first complaint by Jan. 8. The Law Center has received a Jan. 13 update from the Department of Education that stated, according to the Center: the DOE “anticipates finalizing our investigation in the near future and will issue our report shortly thereafter.”
The district has provided information pertaining to the special education complaints that the Law Center is now reviewing, said Lauren Michaels, a lawyer for the center. She would not give further details.
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