Although the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education adopted Section 504 plans last September, parents and officials expressed frustration that policy regulations and procedures have not been finalized and communicated to ensure proper execution when the 2017-18 school years commences.
The Section 504 plan contains regulations to ensure that children with disabilities receive proper accommodations and access in elementary or secondary institutions.
“We have repeatedly been told that the regulations were being ‘finalized’ and would be provided to us shortly. Although the deadline for issuing the regulations expired more than seven months ago, we have yet to see any draft or proposal,” Erin Siders, President of the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC) said during the public comments section of Monday’s monthly meeting.
See relevant portions of the Policy 5750.1 at the end of this article.
Outgoing Superintendent Dr. John J. Ramos, Sr., who was attending his last monthly meeting, conceded that the regulations had taken much longer than anticipated. “The important thing to know is that the regulations have been developed and they are undergoing internal review,” he said. In addition, he explained the district is seeking the appropriate software to administer the policy.
Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad said that while the SOMSD is on “the cutting edge in many instances” by prioritizing Section 504 policy, she wanted to make sure that incoming Executive Director of Special Services and Youth Development Dr. Lauren Reisenaur was involved in the dissemination of the regulations. “We definitely want to know her eyeballs are on it,” added Lawson-Muhammad.
Last month, the board voted 8-1 to name Reisenauer as the new Executive Director of Special Services and Youth Development.
Board member Johanna Wright, who was the single dissent vote during Reisenaur’s hire, reiterated that she considered the selection process problematic because the policy implementation had not been properly addressed. “I expressed concern over this policy not being implemented over a year ago,” she said. “And I really have to look at SEPAC and say, ‘you guys have a lot of patience.’”
Several board members articulated the need to expedite the process of communicating regulation information. “To get the training done in August, regulations will need to be issued fairly soon,” said board member Madhu Pai.
Board member Maureen Jones raised a motion to set July 28 as a deadline to have the regulations delivered to the board and parents. Board President Elizabeth Baker added a second motion to make names and contact information available for every 504 coordinator in the district. Both measures passed by 7-2 votes.
Ramos said he had been trying to make sure the regulations were being shared with the internal staff first. “I don’t want to put something out prematurely,” he explained. “It’s not as though we’re looking for the board to overturn an aspect of it. We have received a great deal of feedback and we’re simply going to release the regulations. We’re very close to bringing this home.”
Full Statement from Erin Siders, President of the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC):
SEPAC would like to address the status of the regulations for implementing the Section 504 Policy. The Board adopted the policy on September 19, 2016. As you know, the Policy states that “within sixty days of the adoption of this Policy, the Superintendent shall issue regulations and procedures for complying with Section 504 and this Policy…”. To date, however, no regulations have been issued.
Since the Policy was adopted, SEPAC has contacted the District many times regarding these regulations. We have repeatedly been told that the regulations were being “finalized” and would be provided to us shortly. Although the deadline for issuing the regulations expired more than seven months ago, we have yet to see any draft or proposal.
We are now bringing our concerns back to the Board. We appreciate that the Policy was initiated by Board members, that the community, including SEPAC, was invited to participate in a lengthy drafting process, and that the majority of Board members have publicly proclaimed their support for the Policy. But that is not enough. As far as we can tell, our students with 504 plans are in no better position than they were before the policy was adopted. As far as we can tell, not much has been done to rectify the numerous problems that have been brought to the Administration and Board’s attention over the last several years.
In addition to requiring that the District issue regulations by November 2016, the Policy requires that, at the end of each school year, each building Principal deliver a report on the effectiveness of the services identified in Section 504 plans. And that, on the basis of the Principal’s reports, the Superintendent shall annually report to the Board a summary of activities related to Section 504.
The end of the school year has now come and gone. We are not aware that the required reports have been delivered by the principals, or that the Superintendent has made the required report to the Board. We are not even aware that any steps were ever taken to gather the data necessary to prepare such reports.
The efforts made by the Board to adopt the policy in 2016 are laudable. But we need the Board to take action to compel the District to actually comply with the requirements of the Policy.
A new District and Special education management team is in place. We urge you to take this opportunity to direct the Interim Superintendent to make this a top priority for the new Special Services Executive Director. And that you inquire about progress at each public Board meeting until the regulations are written, reviewed with the Community, and fully implemented.
SEPAC will be staying very close to this issue until it is resolved. As always we stand ready to provide whatever support we can to move this forward quickly. Thank you.
Relevant sections of Policy 5750.1, adopted by the BOE on Sept. 19, 2016:
...The Superintendent of Schools, or his/her designee, shall be responsible for the District’s efforts to
comply with the requirements of Section 504 and this policy. Within sixty (60) days of the adoption of this Policy, the Superintendent shall issue regulations and procedures for complying with Section 504 and this Policy, including regulations regarding Section 504 referrals, the District’s efforts to identify underserved students who may be eligible for Section 504 accommodations, eligibility determinations, Section 504 plan development and implementation.
These regulations shall also include requirements that parents/guardians be provided with a Notice of Procedural Rights upon their request for a Section 504 evaluation or as part of the notification that their student has been referred for evaluation for Section 504 accommodations; procedural safeguards including mechanisms for appealing a determination and expeditiously resolving complaints regarding eligibility determinations or development of a Section 504 plan; procedures to ensure implementation of and/or compliance with a student’s Section 504 plan, and procedures for ensuring compliance with and accommodations under Section 504 at transition points in a student’s educational career, including entry to kindergarten, transition from fifth grade to sixth grade and eighth grade to ninth grade. These regulations shall also clearly set forth a grievance procedure to expeditiously process complaints concerning allegations of discrimination in the District, including allegations of retaliation for asserting rights under Section 504 and/or this Policy….
…At the end of each school year, each building Principal shall, in consultation with the Section 504 Committee (including the Building Coordinator if other than the Principal), develop a report that includes a report of the number of students who were referred for Section 504 evaluations, the outcome of the evaluation processes, the concerns and issues identified by the Section 504 Teams, and the effectiveness of the services provided in achieving the outcomes identified in the Section 504 plans. This report shall be provided to the Superintendent of Schools. On the basis of the reports received from each building Principal, the Superintendent of Schools shall annually report to the Board a summary of the District’s identification and evaluations of students, the Section 504 accommodations required, the number and nature of any appeals filed by parent(s)/guardian(s) in the Section 504 process, the number and nature of complaints and/or grievances regarding compliance with Section 504 plans, allegations of discrimination, or retaliation, and procedures for ensuring compliance with Section 504 requirements.