The school district’s beleaguered special education program continued to deprive students of services like speech therapy during the previous school year, according to a new complaint filed with the New Jersey Department of Education by the Education Law Center.
Students at a dozen schools and pre-school facilities did not receive required speech-language services in the 2017-18 school year, according to the complaint filed on Aug. 30, 2018.
The Newark-based Education Law Center was “shocked” to receive complaints students were not being provided speech-language services. An earlier complaint by the nonprofit triggered a New Jersey Department of Education investigation that uncovered widespread violations of special education law in 2016-17.
In Feb. 2018, the district admitted it owed 18,799 hours of speech services to 1,960 students. Before that superintendent Eileen Shafer, in a Jul. 2017 interview, promised to “make whole” special education students, who went without needed services in the 2016-17 school year.
In Apr. 2018, school board members were told 682 hours out of 18,799 were provided to students through the district’s Saturday program.
None of the nine members of the Board of Education asked any questions at the public meeting.
At the time, the Paterson Times asked Shafer whether her administration will be on track to ensure all students would be caught up at the end of the summer, she suggested they would.
The district faced some problems at first. For example, speech specialists from a private vendor refused assignments at some schools citing safety concerns. Shafer could not hire employees at market rate to provide the services due to opposition from the teachers’ union. She reached an agreement with the teachers’ union that allowed her to boost speech therapists’ rates from $37 to $75 per hour for beyond normal school day programs through Aug. 31, 2018.
“All of the students that were behind in any services received it this summer,” school board president Oshin Castillo said at a debate on Oct. 4, 2018. She responded to an attack on the incumbents by a challenger at the debate.
The next day, the Paterson Times submitted an inquiry to the district seeking status of the speech services backlog.
2,453 hours of speech therapy was provided via the Saturday and summer speech programs, according to information the district provided on Oct. 18, 2018.
Castillo’s claim was false.
When asked about her claim, Castillo denied making the statement. She later walked back her remark and said not all of the students were caught up.
Schools without speech therapists last year were: School 1, School 2, School 10, New Roberto Clemente, Edward W. Kilpatrick, Panther, Stars, and Harp Academy. There were also two preschool facilities: Gilmore II and the Paterson Family Center.
Alexander Hamilton Academy did not have a speech therapist from Sept. through Dec. 2017. As a result, the district had the School 6 speech therapist cover both sites. Both schools needed the services of a full-time speech specialist. This left many students in both schools without consistent speech services required by their individualized education plans (IEPs).
“The compensatory sessions are still taking place,” said Paul Brubaker, spokesman for the Paterson Public Schools. He said the district has filled all speech vacancies and contracted with the Northern Regional Educational Services Commission to support the compensatory and prescribed speech services.
The complaint also states the district improperly implemented unregulated online speech services for students. The district hired DotCom Therapy of Springfield, Mo. The district relied on DotCom to screen students to determine which child was fit for telepractice rather than relying on IEP team determinations.
In one case, a parent consented to online speech therapy for her son on a temporary basis, only because the district failed to provide speech therapy services for more than three months, says the complaint. The parent received no indication when or if the in-person therapy would resume.
The complaint says the state failed to regulate telepractice. The center filed a lawsuit against the New Jersey Department of Education for its alleged failure.