Eliminates restriction on placement of special education students in sectarian schools.

NJEA opposes A-2869 (Huttle, Handlin, Barnes III, Schaer).  This legislation would allow special needs students to be placed in sectarian or religious-oriented schools.

Placement of a student with disabilities in a sectarian setting could prove inappropriate for some of the following reasons:

  • Sectarian schools are not obligated to meet the same standards as public schools nor are they obligated to take students of different faiths.  Should they choose to accept students of different faiths – they may charge a higher tuition.  Our special needs students should not receive less than their regular education student counterparts.
  • There is no requirement that a sectarian school employ highly qualified staff.  In fact, many of them do not even employ a Child Study Team (CST). 
  • The bill calls for schools to be accredited; however, under the Naples Act, the Department of Education has no authority to oversee sectarian or religious schools.  Therefore, who is going to determine that a school is accredited?
  • In an era where the rights of parents of special needs students are on the forefront, this bill will remove those rights since the DOE is forbidden to oversee a sectarian placement.
  • In order to receive the services to which they are entitled, the student could be placed in an environment where they are taught religious views that are diametrically opposed to those of their family.
  • Although the legislation requires an itemized bill be provided to the sending district, who is going to enforce this provision?  Taxpayer funds could still be used to support religious education because, without this oversight, the student’s district of residency is still responsible to pay the cost of sending the student to the sectarian school.
  • N.J.S.18A:46-14 is quite clear in its intent that our students with special needs are educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  This legislation may cause unnecessary segregation of our students with special needs by placing them in private institutions instead of a more inclusive setting.
  • N.J.A.C. 6A:14 currently provides a full continuum of alternative placements.
  • Federal Office of Special Education Programs has repeatedly cited New Jersey for the practice of segregating our students with special needs by placing them in more restrictive environments.  This bill encourages this practice of segregating students with special needs and could place our federal funding in jeopardy.

Our students with special needs are potentially our most vulnerable population.  Many of our students with disabilities that are possible candidates for out-of-district placements lack the communication skills and sometimes the cognitive skills necessary to communicate inconsistencies in the delivery of services contained in their IEPs.  It is critical that there be specific safeguards in place that will ensure their academic, social and emotional success.

NJEA acknowledges that there will be times when some of our special needs students might need to be placed in an out-of-district program.  However, using public funds to send these students to sectarian schools is not appropriate.  Taxpayer funds should be dedicated to public schools to develop and enhance the programs and expertise that would best serve our special needs students.  The State should ensure that school districts have the necessary funding to do just that.

NJEA urges you to vote NO on A-2869.