BRICK – Scores of parents of special needs students attended the March 8 Board of Education meeting asking for clarification on a letter they had received from acting superintendent of schools Dennis Filippone that said all pre-k and kindergarten students would be moved from self-contained classrooms to inclusive class settings.
A self-contained classroom is a structured class composed of special needs children who share similar academic requirements. An inclusion class places special needs students in a classroom setting with student who have no disabilities.
After moving the lecturn to the center of the room, Filippone faced the parents and apologized that the letter had caused worry or fear.
“The letter was approved by me,” he said, “and the word ‘all’ was an error.”
“This is my fault. I did not send a clear message, so I would like to clear up some misconceptions,” he said to the parents. Inclusive class settings does not apply and is not appropriate for all students, especially for those with MD (multiple disabilities) or those with BD (disruptive behavioral disabilities).
Filippone said he started his career at Lake Riviera Middle School where he was a special education teacher for 18 years. During that time he saw that inclusive settings had brought success to many students, and that in the right circumstance, inclusion classes help special needs students academically, socially and emotionally.
Comprehensive criteria would be established for each student, and IEP (individualized education program) meetings would be scheduled to determine the placement for each child, Filippone said. Parents would be able to express their concerns during these meetings, and they would not be forced to accept any placement they do not agree with, he added.
“We would like a successful integration of students who are ready, and we will move slowly for students who can make that journey,” he said.
Filippone said that they would start to integrate special needs students into science and social studies to start, and perhaps some of the specials like music, art and gym.
New Jersey law requires that each district provide a continuum of services, so no programs would be eliminated, he said.
Board of Education President Stephanie Wohlrab has a special needs son in the district, and she said that his teacher, “who is like his second mother,” would have input regarding his participation in inclusive classrooms.
“Sometimes it’s hard because you know your child is safe and comfortable…but sometimes the child must be pushed,” she said.
When Filippone opened the floor to questions, about a dozen parents raised their hands.
One parent asked who would be teaching the inclusive classes. Filippone said that the district would be advised by the National Consortium for Inclusive Education along with the district’s Director of Curriculum Susan Mcnamara and Director of Special Services Colleen Dalrymple.
“In many cases, the teacher from the self-contained class would follow those students into the inclusive setting,” Filippone said.
Another parent asked how big the regular classes would be if special needs children would be added in for certain subjects.
Filippone said they had not determined the number of classes or the number of students yet, but McNamara said that depending on the number of special needs students, regular classes could be limited to 12 or 13 students.
“We are starting slow,” Filippone reiterated. “Our overall hope is that all children who can operate in a self-contained classroom move towards that. It will be a well thought-out plan that will be in the best interest of the kids,” he said.
Filippone said that another meeting on the subject would be held on March 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the Professional Development Center at the Veterans Complex.
The next regularly-scheduled Board of Education meeting will be on Thursday April 12 at 7 p.m.