PATERSON – Amid complaints from education advocates, and now, orders from the state, the school district has started to provide special education to its preschoolers again, partially filling a void in services that some parents say has caused a lapse in their children’s learning.
The district failed to provide speech therapy and other special education required by law to preschool children from last summer through the fall, according to a Feb. 10 state report responding to allegations by the Education Law Center in early November.
The district appears to have started providing the speech services in December and had filled all but three preschool therapy positions by about Jan. 15, the report states. It also recently contracted additional speech service providers. The district did not confirm the developments and declined to comment.
School administrators have had to abide by a hiring and spending freeze since Sept. 15 after the state projected a district deficit of up to $12 million. The district disputes that it has a shortfall. It has acknowledged that 225 disabled preschoolers have not received all the therapy to which they’re entitled.
The state Department of Education ordered the district to provide monthly reports starting Monday until all the preschoolers have therapy sessions they are owed since last summer. In the report, the district states that all “self-contained” classrooms now have certified special education teachers in place.
Education Law Center attorney Lauren Michaels criticized the state report itself, however, as being too vague in outlining how the district should administer the services.
“The real problem here is that the Department of Education found all these violations but they’re not giving adequate guidance,” she said. “The district staff seems confused about what’s going on.”
An e-mail to the Department of Education requesting comment was not returned.
The law center is still waiting for an Education Department response to a complaint it filed in January accusing the district of illegally denying the same special educations services to elementary students at School 2.
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