Testimony before the State Board of Education

Proposed Special Education Changes
Marie Blistan, NJEA Secretary-Treasurer
Wednesday, June 5, 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 current secretary-treasurer.

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to speak with you again regarding the proposed changes to special education regulations. 

When I testified back in March, I asked you to consider the potential impact the proposed special education regulations would have on New Jersey’s public schools, educators, students and their families.  Regrettably, I am here again today, because we have not received any official word that you have taken our concerns into consideration and stopped this process.  

I would like to remind this board, that in September of 2012, the Governor’s Education Transformation Task Force found that:

  • 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. 

Unfortunately, the Task Force ignored its own recommendations, because the Department never formed a group of special education stakeholders to study special education regulations, laws or practices.  Sadly, the voice of the special education community was left out of this process.

I know the special education community well, and I know all too well that they do not take any changes to the successful special education services New Jersey provides lightly.  For that reason, NJEA is proud to be one of more than 25 special education stakeholder groups that came together to review all the proposed changes.  We discussed the potential harmful impact these recommendations would have on our students, their families and educators. 

Our group formed what is known as the Special Education Stakeholders Coalition and we have been busy.  We:

  • Wrote two White Papers addressing the regulations our coalition believed were the most harmful to our special education population and presented them to the Department of Education.

…over, please

  • Sent the White Papers to every State Board member, as well as members of the legislature.   
  • Met with legislators, including Senate President Steve Sweeney.
  • Alerted concerned educators, advocates, parents and community members through various methods, including a statewide teleconference that had more than 1,300 people call in to learn about the proposed regulations. 

More importantly, we met with many of you - - State Board members who represent New Jersey’s public school students and have a vote in the way these regulatory changes will impact the special education population.

Many of you met with our members at our Legislative Conference or Legislative Action Team Meetings.  You read the thousands of letters members took the time to write - - letters that explained their specific stories, worries and concerns.  One or two of you actually went into some schools to learn directly from educators what a day in the life of a special education student involves.

As a result, many of you began to question the Department.

And yet, you still voted to adopt the changes.  My question is why? 

Why would you vote to allow these proposed changes to go through the administrative code adoption process, without first following the recommendation of the ETTF and allow for a special education task force to study the best methods to improve special education services?

What exactly is the rush?

In March, Governor Christie signed S-600/A1365 into law.  This legislation allows for the formation of a special education task force that would study ways to improve the way special education services are delivered to New Jersey’s students. 

This task force must be put into place before any regulations are considered.  But more importantly, once created, this task force will have the input of more than 17 special education stakeholders. 

This task force will work to ensure that the needs of our special education students are not forgotten. 

As a state board, you have an obligation to represent our special education students and make sure they have a voice in what is going to happen with their education.  You need to vote to stop the proposed changes to special education regulations.

I urge this board to let this task force do its job, before any changes are made to special education regulations.

I thank you for this time and I implore you to remember our special education population relies on us to do right by them.