South Orange-Maplewood Special Ed Parents Ask for Better Communication, More Help With Distance Learning

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The following letter was submitted to the SOMSD Board of Education and read aloud during the Public Speaks portion of their April 20, 2020, meeting.

BOE members and Dr. Taylor, this is a message I have written to my fellow parents of children with special needs. I felt you should read it as well…

April 20, 2020

Dear fellow parents,

We are all going through an impossible situation. Parents, students, administrators, teachers, counselors, therapists, paraprofessionals, are living a reality that isn’t normal. But it is where we are and we have to be able to somehow come together and make it work, on some level, for all of us.

Our world is experiencing an international health catastrophe that is extremely stressful and frightening, for everyone.

This impossible situation is going to go on for longer than any of us want to think about. While we are in it, the greatest challenge, while trying to educate our children, will be to be forgiving to ourselves. We cannot do what their teachers, therapists, counselors, paras, case managers do.

We need to consider our expectations and weigh them against our reality.

We cannot expect our children to receive, anywhere close to, the level of special education in distance learning that they receive at school. It is not possible. As parents, we do not have the expertise, training, or time to take on the responsibilities of a team of educational professionals.

However, we can and do expect…

  1. Clear regular communication that comes (more often than it has) from the Special Services Department and from all the service providers.
  2. Considerable support, thoughtful collaboration and partnership from school staff and District administration. They all work for the benefit of our students and should be reaching out regularly with suggestions, strategies, understanding and encouragement. There should be proactivity, not just waiting for families to reach out to them.
  3. An acknowledgement that families are expected to do a nearly impossible task to educate their special needs children. (I feel that this fact hasn’t been stated enough.)
  4. The rights of every special education student are followed in an equitable manner. Any student that has related services should be offered it via teletherapy. It may not be as often or as long, but it is not up to the District to decide who shouldn’t get these services. Each therapist should reach out to their students/families to coordinate these services and schedule a session at least 1x/week.
  5. An equitable grading plan shared with special needs students in the middle and high schools. These children, in particular, are experiencing a high level of stress and anxiety due to the lack of necessary supports from not being at school and a plan needs to be made clear to them and their families.
  6. Shifting everyone’s expectations from assignments getting completed to recognizing that any work that the student is getting done is a success.

I believe that the most important message to our children from us, the families, and from the School District, is to let them know that they are safe at home and we are going to help them be the best students that they can be at this time. It will be different than how they are at school and that’s okay. When they go back, they will get support and care needed to be the best students they can be at school. There are enough stressors from the very nature of this situation that adding to it by dwelling on the impossibility of providing special services that we don’t have the wherewithal to give is not going to make things better for anyone.

Don’t get me wrong; I feel angry, frustrated, disappointed and scared. I hate that my daughter isn’t at school receiving the special education that is hers to receive. But I put those negative feelings aside so I can help my child have a positive home learning experience. I encourage everyone to do the same. And, as cliché as it sounds, remember that we are all in this together so let’s support and encourage each other and all of the people that are trying to make this impossible situation work, while I look forward to the same encouragement and support from them.

Beth Cosentino

Special Education co-Liaison, Tuscan
The feelings and concerns expressed reflect those of Special Education Parent Advisory Committee leadership and they have chosen to co-sign this letter.

Ann Leeb, President of SEPAC

Michele Richman, Vice President of Outreach

Michael Thompson, Vice President of Policy

Malia Herman, Secretary

Michael Donoghue, Budget Advisor

Reesa Salomon, Past President of SEPAC

Alex Dubin and Lindsey Stone, Special Education co-Liaisons, Montrose

Caryn Gehrke and Anna Herbst, Special Education co-Liaisons, Seth Boyden

Alison Kuhlman, Special Education co-Liaison, Tuscan

Allison Gluck and Jeremy Wintroub, Special Education co-Liaisons, Marshall

Brooke Horowitz, Special Education Liaison, Clinton

Jennie Fischette, Special Education Liaison, Jefferson

Michelle Reback, Special Education Liaison, South Mountain

Jocelyn Ryan, Special Education Liaison, South Orange Middle

Pam Donoghue, Special Education Liaison, Maplewood Middle

John Clarke, Special Education Liaison, Columbia High

Danielle Perrotta, Special Education Liaison, Out of District

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