Special Education

The South Orange/Maplewood Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, or SEPAC SOMA, sent a questionnaire to all the 2018 candidates for the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. Below are my responses.

What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education? 

In speaking with parents from around the district, in various grades and at different schools throughout the South Orange-Maplewood School District, I have three main priorities when it comes to special education, as well as a comprehensive look educational policies: Transparency. Accountability. Dignity.

First and foremost, the district can do better with regard to informing parents about their options, the assessment process and the policies surrounding special education. There appears to be a disparity in how the district communicates with students and parents about the purpose of the district’s special education programs and resources: In our information age, this should not be the case. Secondly, accountability needs to be improved when it comes to educators setting, communicating and meeting individual students’ goals. Without a comprehensive plan for accountability, the risks of students falling through the cracks remains all too great. Parents should not have to file lawsuits in order to get their children the help they need and deserve. Finally, and just as importantly, the dignity of our students need to be recognized and incorporated on a day-to-day basis when it comes to all educational programs. Children are more than data points on a spreadsheet, and I would like to see better whole-child assessments in special education classes and better integration in standard classrooms where appropriate. Of course, it’s more time-consuming, but all students deserve to have their talents and challenges evaluated in the most comprehensive manner possible.

Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students.  What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?

SOMSD has an incredibly important responsibility — and a clear obligation — to meet the needs of all its students, that includes timely attention to changing needs of the children in its purview, whether the individual is subject to an IEP or a 504 Plan. As the education of children is the district’s primary directive, there should be no question that prompt, comprehensive and expert attention to its students maintains the highest priority on a day-to-day and long-term basis. I would like to see a senior administration official, perhaps an assistant superintendent, take personal responsibility for the deployment of resources for those students in need. Accountability also means looking forward, evaluating what improvements have been effective, and incorporating those efforts where appropriate.

Bruno J. Navarro is a 2018 candidate for one of three seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. For more information, please visit NavarroSOMA.com. Follow him on Facebook here.

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