Montclair lacks special education personnel


According to the president of the Montclair Education Association, classes in Montclair are short of special education staff, leaving some students to spend hours on their phones and computers.
(GREEN CHAMELEON RUN / UNSPLASH)

By TALIA WIENER
[email protected]

Many special education classes in Montclair public schools have started the school year without adequate staff, according to parents of special education students and the Montclair Education Association.

Officials said at a September 20 Education Council meeting that they were “desperately working” to fill the positions and that the problem was part of a nationwide shortage of teachers and staff. the state – and not because of the negligence of the district. Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Ponds did not respond to messages from the Montclair local asking how many positions remain vacant.

Montclair Education Association President Cathy Kondreck spoke about the issue at the meeting. Some students in special education do not receive instruction in core subjects, some substitute teachers arrive late for class and students spend hours on their phones and computers, she said.

Kondreck said an alarmed staff member had taken her aside on the first day of school, admitting she was scared. She did not say whether this staff member worked with special education students.

“She said, ‘I’m afraid I have to start telling the truth about what’s really going on,” “Kondreck told the BOE.

With teachers and paraprofessionals missing from many schools, the district is not meeting students’ individualized education plans, Kondreck said. Paraprofessionals provide additional classroom support to students. Many education plans require a student to be paired one-on-one with a paraprofessional throughout the day.

“While the district has promoted their plan to approach social and emotional learning in a consistent manner this year, they have left the group of students with the most important social and emotional needs in our district in the worst situations,” he said. said Kondreck. “Our special education students are not being served the way they deserve. ”

The district has hired all necessary paraprofessionals, Damen Cooper, district personnel director, said at the meeting. He did not specify how many other positions remain open.

“We’re working desperately to make sure everything is staffed,” Cooper said. “This is an ongoing process.”

But since Tuesday, the district recruiting site identified 21 vacancies for special education staff – four paraprofessionals and 17 teachers. There was also a job offer for a special education supervisor.

New vacancies are posted daily, “many of which should have been filled months ago,” Kondreck said at the board meeting.

In July, the neighborhood announced he would make major changes to special education following a third party audit which revealed racial disparities in the frequency with which children are classified as in need of services; communication problems and inequitable experiences of students in district schools.

Leaders of the Montclair Special Education Parent Advisory Council told the Montclair local that they were in contact with parents, MEA and the district administration to better understand the situation.

“We will not mince our words, what is happening is unacceptable at all levels,” said the Montclair SEPAC management team in a joint message to the Montclair local. “We are here to work with [the district], but we cannot and do not want to let our community be forgotten.

Kondreck, at the board meeting, highlighted the district cuts 36 staff members last May, 23 of whom, according to the union, worked in special education.

Ponds said at the time, the district may find it necessary to rehire staff over the summer, as needs for the school year become clearer. But in June, then MEA president Petal Robertson told the Montclair local that the district would struggle to rehire staff as those laid off would likely find work elsewhere.

“Not only is it demoralizing, but it doesn’t work either” Robertson, who left the presidency of the MEA to become secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association said at the time.

End of August, MEA told Montclair Local 29 of 36 staff had either been offered their jobs at Montclair or hired by other districts, but did not specify how many fell into each category.

Kondreck did not respond to questions about the Montclair Local’s staffing sent to his MEA address since September 9.

At the September 20 meeting, Board Members Approved Hiring Of Special Education Teacher At Renaissance At Rand Middle School, a position that Cooper says has been empty for nearly two years. The class had been provided with a long-term substitute teacher, he added.

The teacher will begin Nov. 22 and a former Renaissance special education teacher will take over until then, SEPAC leaders said the district told them.

Cooper said he takes the staffing of special education classes seriously, as a former special education teacher and state monitor for the special education department of the New Brunswick Department of Education. Jersey.

“We hired all the paratroopers needed,” Cooper said. “Please know that this was not something that was careless.”

Cooper worked with recruiting agencies, principals and the district’s acting director of student services, David Goldblatt, to find staff for the district, Ponds said at the council meeting.

“Many districts in the state have experienced staffing issues and staff shortages,” Ponds told Montclair Local. “We have been able to provide the classrooms with quality staff. “

Kondreck said students were already weeks behind in their studies and routines.

“These children who deserve a great education at Montclair are already weeks behind their school-level peers, not only in studies but in the natural routine that develops during the transition to school,” Kondreck said. . “Unlike their school-level peers, they won’t bounce back quickly from a setback of this magnitude.”

Other districts hire first-grade teachers at salaries usually set for teachers who have been in place for a decade because the needs are so high, Cooper said at the meeting. For the 2021-2022 school year, New Jersey reported teacher shortages in special education in the US Department of Education, as well as shortages in vocational and technical education, English as a second language, math, science and world languages.

On September 24, a new state law was signed by Governor Murphy heading the New Jersey Department of Education establish a five-year pilot program to hire teachers without their full certification.


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