Tuesday, August 04, 2015
The East Ramapo School District is making progress to limit costly private placements for special education students, according to a letter from the state Department of Education.
As a result, the state will no longer require the district to submit paper applications for state reimbursement for students at a school that has often been requested by parents for disabled students who speak Yiddish.
"The reviewed papers for a couple of years and they are now satisfied that we are doing (the placements) in the proper way," said Arthur Jakubowitz, East Ramapo's deputy superintendent for special education.
The letter from Sean Dwyer, a supervisor in the state Office of Special Education, dated July 20, states that the district has made corrections to its procedures in five instances in which it was cited between 2010 and 2012.
But the state is going to keep an eye on the district and its special education placements, Dwyer wrote.
"The state will continue to monitor East Ramapo's … practices to ensure that all new placements in private schools by the district are in conformance with the federal and state least restrictive requirement," he wrote, noting that the state will also watch to "ensure that the district continues its development of in-district programs to meet the needs of Yiddish bilingual students with disabilities in accordance with the plan and timetable approved by the (state.)"
Placement of special education students from the district's large Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish population has been a flashpoint in troubled district. A majority of students who live in East Ramapo attend private religious schools and the Board of Education is dominated by Hasidic men who make decisions for the mostly black and Latino students in public schools.
A fiscal monitor appointed by the governor in November cited special education placements as a major issue. And a state appellate court ruled in June that the district violated special education law by settling too readily with parents who wanted their children placed in private religious schools.
Steve White, head of Power of Ten, an advocacy group that has long criticized the district's practices, noted that East Ramapo only started to comply with state law after it lost repeatedly in court.
"They fought this tooth and nail and took it all the way to the Appellate Division and lost every time," he said. "They wasted a lot of taxpayer dollars."
The letter from the state refers only to private schools, but Jakubowitz said the district is making progress in reducing the number of students who are placed in the Kiryas Joel public school for Yiddish-speaking children with disabilities.
Those placements costs East Ramapo taxpayers more than $70,000 annually.
In response, East Ramapo is expanding programs for Yiddish-speaking students with disabilities who might have otherwise been placed outside the district.
In the coming school year, 60 students in kindergarten through fourth grade will attend classes in two East Ramapo public schools. Classrooms have been set up in Elmwood and Hempstead elementary schools, Jakubowitz said. Those students will attend special classes and interact with other pupils during assemblies and other school-wide programs, he said.
The classrooms have refrigerators and microwave ovens where students can store food, he said. That program will cost about $30,000 annually, in line with what the district pays for other special needs students being educated in the district now, he said.
But White said those youngsters will still be too segregated.
"Their children are not mixing with other children, which is what (their) parents want," White said. "They have the right to send their children to a segregated school, but it's not right to ask the public to pay for it."
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