Saturday, July 05, 2014

KJ has come long way in service special needs student population 

The classrooms are bright and cheerful. The children are quick to smile. In fact, in Mrs. Blimy Kramer's pre-K classroom, that was the goal of the day – to make sure that each child smiled.

That's a tall order when you consider that all 216 full-time and 218 part-time students enrolled in the Kiryas Joel School District have special needs. They include kids with multiple disabilities, autism and Down syndrome. They range in age from 3-21. The students are Hasidic Jews. Their first language is Yiddish.

The district is a mystery to many. Visits by the media are rare. This is a district whose very existence came before the U.S. Supreme Court – not once but twice.

Superintendent Joel Petlin opened the doors of the district to the Record in the last weeks of the regular school year.

“Not a single parent will say they wished to have a kid with special needs,” said Kiryas Joel Principal Jehuda Halpern. “Parents sometimes are in pain or under stress and we help them through the process. Special-needs children need help to overcome obstacles in reading, walking, talking.”

The district has community liaisons and crisis counselors who will make home visits if necessary. Among the 235 staff members in the school are 100 therapists, said Halpern.

What's more, the district has significantly “changed the culture and how we deal with behavioral issues” in recent years, thanks to a program launched by the state Education Department (NYSED), said Halpern.

Under the program known as PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), the state provided 10 regional special education assistance centers.

“The behavior specialists from each center work with NYSED-designated school districts to establish and sustain positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) within those school districts,” said Tom Dunn, spokesman for NYSED.

Thousands of other kids living in the district attend one of three nearby religious private schools, known as yeshivas.

As required by law, the district provides busing for about 7,000 of these private school students. They account for much of the district's $4 million in transportation costs in a budget totaling $22.6 million for the 2014-15 school year.

And while it may seem to some that the district has an unusually high percentage of special-needs children, Petlin points out that looks are deceiving.

"There are 10,000 kids living in Kiryas Joel," said Petlin. "We serve about 400 of the kids, so our referral rate is about 4 percent, which is much lower that the statewide average (15 percent). It's concentrated here because we have one building."

While other districts provide special education through BOCES, private placements and as part of regular public school classes, the Kiryas Joel district provides the same services all under one roof.

The district has come a long way from when it opened it doors 24 years ago as a result of state legislation. Its enrollment has more than doubled in size.

The original pre-fab school building, which was "smaller, scary and darker," was replaced six years ago with a new 44,000-square-foot school constructed on top of the former school bus parking lot, said Petlin, who was the youngest member of the legal team that successfully defended the district against legal challenges brought by the State School Boards Association.

The district has had visitors in recent months, including students from West Point who were studying cultural diversity.

"When people see beyond the external appearances such as the skullcap," Halpern said, "they realize that the topics we deal with are very similar."


Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog