On Friday, the state released guidelines affecting thousands of special education students, permitting in-person instruction to resume on July 6, while also allowing districts to conduct summer educational programming and an extended school year.
By Monday, however, a coalition serving more than 3,000 special education students announced that its schools will not provide in-person instruction this summer, saying state guidance for resuming services is not appropriate for many students with special needs. Instead, the coalition said its schools will continue to provide virtual instruction.
A statement released June 15 by the N.J. Joint Council of County Special Services School Districts said the state’s guidelines were inadequate.
“Children with the most intensive disabilities cannot serve as the test case for whether New Jersey schools can reopen safely,” said Dr. Howard Lerner, superintendent of the Bergen County Special Services School District and chair of the joint council of special services districts.
The joint council, comprised of eight county special services school districts, in conjunction with the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ), the South Bergen Jointure Commission and Morris-Union Jointure Commission, made the “collective decision” to continue delivering all instruction and related services for the extended school year programs remotely, the council said Monday.
Lerner said he and many of his counterparts across the state have concerns that the New Jersey Department of Education’s announcement that extended school year programs could begin on July 6 gave parents “false hope” that these programs will resume in person.
“The state’s newly issued standards for summer school and youth summer camp are general in nature and are insufficient to guide the safe reopening of indoor programs for children with severe disabilities and complex medical conditions,” he said.
On Friday, the NJDOE issued guidance for summer learning programs, including the delivery of extended school year services for students with disabilities in conjunction with the release of the New Jersey Department of Health’s COVID-19 Youth Summer Camp standards.
In its guidance, the NJDOE noted that “if a school district or receiving school determines that it would not be possible to meet summer program goals through in-person summer programming in accordance with the (state health department) standards, the school district may conduct summer programming, including (extended school year) for students with disabilities, remotely…”
Lerner explained that many students in the extended school year programs require one-to-one support for feeding, washing, using communication devices and other tasks requiring direct physical contact, making social distancing impossible. Many also cannot tolerate masks for extended periods of time, he said, and others have medical conditions that physically prevent them from wearing masks.