Testimony before the State Board of Education

Proposed Special Education Regulation Changes
by NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Marie Blistan
March 6, 2013

Good afternoon, members of the State Board of Education. 

My name is Marie Blistan; I am a proud 30-year classroom teacher working with students in special education, and I am NJEA’s secretary-treasurer. 

I want to tell you that my job as a teacher of special education students is more than just a job; it’s been my passion—and still is—and it’s really been my life.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer commentary on the proposed draft special education regulation changes.

I am here today to urge you to reconsider moving the special ed draft regulations to the next level and to examine the potential impact they will have on our schools, their staff, and most importantly, New Jersey’s public school students.

While I understand that the Department of Education has accepted recommendations from the Education Transformation Task Force—a group selected and appointed by Gov. Christie—that resulted in these proposed changes, I am dismayed to find that no one is considering the most important recommendation that came from that group.

Please allow me to read their recommendation to you now; it says:  “Students with disabilities are a heterogeneous group with diverse needs.  The broad universe of special education regulations merit a careful review, which was beyond the scope of the Task Force.  The Task Force recommends that the Department convene a working group to study special education laws, regulations, and practices to identify ways to improve student achievement, protect student health and safety, and manage this education sector’s rapidly escalating costs.”

As a special education teacher and child advocate, I urge you to heed this recommendation. 

These proposed changes have long-term consequences that I’m sure you don’t intend.  For example, designating teachers and any other licensed staff members to serve as case managers will result in a marked decrease in staff productivity and be an unnecessary burden on already overwhelmed school employees.

As I’m sure you are aware, according to state code, a case manager is responsible for coordinating the development, monitoring, and evaluation of the effectiveness of a student’s Individualized Education Plan (or IEP.) 

But what you may not know is that this is more than just paperwork… this is research; this is availability; this is constant advocacy for a single child and his/her education.   And those elements don’t even cover the tip of the iceberg as to the complete role of a case manager.  In fact, case management is arguably the most critical element there is for the success of our special education students.

Although the case manager is referenced in only four sections of the code; in fact, it’s a thread that runs throughout the code.  That thread is most likened to a lifeline for both the student and the parents.

The bottom line is that these proposed draft regulations will hurt students and they deserve careful, thoughtful consideration, so I urge this Board to not move this to the next level.

Instead, further study on these issues must be done to evaluate the needs of the special education population before making any changes.

We keep hearing about this state’s commitment to ensure a quality educational opportunity for all of New Jersey’s public school students; please don’t allow anything to be put into place that will shortchange one of our most vulnerable groups of these students.

Thank you.