The Montclair Board of Education heard more on special education at its October 15 meeting and discussed contingency plans for dealing with the staircases and asbestos in the grand but aging main building of the Montclair High school campus.
Thomas Santagato, the district’s director of pupil services, went over the second part of a presentation on special education in which he sought to provide data on the number of students in each school and each special-ed program, as part of a review requested by Superintendent Kendra Johnson. He explained that Montclair offers numerous in-district programs to address the special needs of various students, with the programs covering all 13 grades. The programs address students with autism, behavioral problems, language disabilities, and multiple disabilities, plus programs supporting with pre-kindergarten children that have one or more of disability. Program requirements are determined by state code and student needs, with specific guidelines for ratios of staff to students, including paraprofessionals.
Statistics indicating the participation in special-ed programs show small variations in the number of students now and in the previous school year. Santagato said the number of children with autism in the district at present is slightly up from the previous number – 149 students in October 2018 compared to 146 in June – but the number of students with an SLD (specific-learning disability) now stands at 284, down from 310 in June. Santagato said the district does not have to offer every type of program in each school, and that state Department of Education recognizes that the programs offered in any given district should reflect the students’ needs. It is important, Santagato said, to understand that children need to be placed not just in the appropriate program but in the appropriate school.
As of October 2018, Santagato told the board, there are currently 1,247 students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) with three showing expiration dates and 14 with missing information. He expected corrections and updates to be completed by this point, and that 89.59 percent of district staff have reviewed and signed off on the IEPs. He urged parents of special-ed children to stay in communication with case managers, and that the recent hiring of new case managers has allowed the district to diversify the staff and provide more support for special-ed students. Each school has a full case team.
Santagato said the next steps that should be taken in the district are to increase awareness of special-education laws and regulations, increase professional development and staff, and to create innovative programs to address fear of school.
Board member Joseph Kavesh asked how to get the district staff to reach 100 percent review and sign-off of IEPs. Santagato said more consistent follow-up was key, as well as running reports more frequently. Superintendent Johnson sought to clarify that statistic, saying that the 89.59 percent figure does not reflect the totality of those who have reviewed IEPs. She said students enrolled in the next semester are showing up as not having had their IEPs read, so there are certain faculty members who have not yet instructed those students. Santagato concurred with Superintendent Johnson’s understanding of the statistics. He said they will read the IEPs as soon as they begin to teach the students.
Board President Laura Hertzog said many parents are frustrated that paraprofessionals have not read the IEPs, unaware that they are not allowed to read them. Santagato cited the need to protect the confidentiality of the students, but added that many paraprofessionals are uncertified and therefore not privy to IEP information that is very personal. The paraprofessionals, many of whom interact more with the students than the teachers do, are mostly confined to reading the accommodations pages of IEPs. Santagato went out of his way to praise the paraprofessionals for being “wonderful.”
MHS Main Building To Close May 20 For Asbestos Removal
Superintendent Johnson updated board members and the public on schedule changes in the calendar and asbestos removal at the high school. She said a professional-development day from the end of the 2018-19 school year would be moved to November 6 to allow the day off for students because of Election Day, as many schools are used for polling places. She gave more detail on the plans to remove asbestos and repair the staircases at Montclair High School. The main building, constructed in 1914, will be closed as of Monday, May 20, 2019, and morning classes would be scheduled at the George Inness Annex for one group of students and afternoon classes would be scheduled at the annex building for another group. The objective is to allow workers to dig more deeply in the asbestos pockets in the main high school building and determine the scope of the abatement project before the staircase towers can be rebuilt. Superintendent Johnson said asbestos abatement could be completed by late June or July 2019, allowing the staircases to be rebuilt in time for the 2019-20 school year. This is a best-case scenario, and Superintendent Johnson said that a greater amount of asbestos could delay the necessary repairs. She plans to issue continuing reports.
In the business office agenda, the board approved the award of a contract to Paterson-based Grade Construction for replacing the turf at Fortunato Field. Board members Eve Robinson and Priscilla Church were reluctant to support it, both saying they wanted more information, but Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea said he had carefully reviewed all of the proposals and concluded that the material to be used on the field was safe.