A January 20 School Board Notes article included legislation, S-451/A-1103, which creates an Office of Special Education Ombudsman, in a list of bills recently signed into law by Governor Christie.
The new law outlines several duties for the office, which will be located in the state Department of Education. Responsibilities include the following:
- To serve as an information source for parents, students, educators, and interested members of the public to help them better understand state and federal laws and regulations governing special education;
- To provide information and support to parents of students with disabilities in navigating the process for obtaining special education evaluations and services;
- To provide information and communication strategies to parents and school districts for resolving a disagreement regarding the identification, evaluation, classification, placement, provision of a free, appropriate public education, or disciplinary action;
- To educate parents on the available options for resolving disputes, including due process hearings, mediation, and other alternative dispute resolution processes;
- To work neutrally with all parties to help ensure that a fair process is followed and that the special education system functions equitably and as intended;
- To identify any patterns of complaints that emerge regarding special education rights and services, and to recommend strategies for improvement to the Department of Education; and
- To serve as a resource for disability-related information and referrals to other available programs and services for individuals with disabilities, including early intervention and transition to adult life.
The legislation was sponsored by Senators M. Teresa Ruiz and Diane Allen, and Assembly Representatives Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Troy Singleton and Daniel Benson. The Commissioner of Education will appoint the ombudsman.
NJSBA supported the bill, based on policy stressing the importance of parental involvement and of awareness of the needs of educationally disabled students and their parents.