BRICK – It costs the district an average of $75,000 to send a special needs student out of district including the cost of tuition, transportation and support services, but since Brick hired a new Director of Special Services in July 2018, the number of those student placements has dropped from 130 to a projected 64 next year.
During a recent Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Farrell thanked Director of Special Services Kristen Hanson for saving the district millions of dollars and making the Special Education Department “more inclusive than ever.”
Not only that, but Brick has been generating tuition income from other local districts who have been sending some of their special needs students here, he said.
The special needs department has developed new and improved programming while streamlining processes and protocols for efficient and effective student placements, Dr. Farrell said.
“[Our department] did some celebrating,” Hanson said during the board meeting. “The supervisors, the teachers, the CST (Child Study Team) members have done an amazing job, using data-driven decisions to make program placements for students, and we’ve really seen a turnaround in that area.”
Some of the money the Brick School District is saving is being invested back into the Special Services Department to develop in-district programming, provide additional support services, and to purchase more materials, Hanson said after the meeting.
“This investment will help to keep our current students in-district and help to manage students who have returned to our district from more restrictive programming,” she said.
In COVID-19 news, Dr. Farrell said that he would continue to put a pause on the implementation of Phase 2 since the data does not support a change at this time. During Phase 2, elementary-aged students were supposed to attend in-person school four days a week, up from a two-day week.
“However, we do believe that although virtual learning is effective, it does not engage our youngest learners like in-person instruction,” he said. “We’re hopeful for phase 2A and 2B for elementary students to commence as soon as possible, when safe.” (For more information on the state’s Restart Program, visit nj.gov/education/reopening/)
The district is meeting NJ Department of Education (DOE) and the health department’s guidelines using the flexible, virtual learning hybrid model and the Restart Plan while allowing for a quick transition from the hybrid learning model to remote learning if it became necessary, the superintendent said.
New guidelines from the NJ DOE “take a more proactive and stringent approach to quarantining prospective, symptomatic and confirmed COVID-19 positive cases,” he said.
Guidelines are continually being updated and implemented in response to the high-risk status the district is currently experiencing, Dr. Farrell said.
Summarizing data that was provided at the end of January, the superintendent said that New Jersey had a 6.4 percent positivity rate, or roughly 568,000 out of 8.8 million tested positive for COVID-19.
Ocean County had a 6.5 percent positivity rate, or some 39,000 cases out of 612,000, and Brick Township has 6.82 percent positivity rate, or about 5,000 cases out of 75,000, he said.
“Our school district is just below one percent of students and staff of that total population,” he said. “This tells a lot about our Brick Township public schools Restart Plan and our hybrid model, and it really has worked.”
Dr. Farrell credited the leadership and diligence of Director of Planning Research & Evaluation Susan McNamara, who coordinates and updates COVID-19 protocol for the district.
“I don’t know anybody that works harder ensuring the health and safety of our students and staff, and it does not go unnoticed,” the superintendent said.
Board of Education President Stephanie Wohlrab said that a lot of effort goes on behind the scenes to provide the best experience for students and their families during the public health crisis.
“Our teachers are phenomenal, creative, they’re making exciting lesson plans, and our administrative staff is going above and beyond in providing a lot of personal communication in sometimes difficult and often scary phone calls that need to be made during this pandemic,” Wohlrab said.