The seemingly never-ending Tiny Tots-special-ed saga in Lakewood, NJ, continued last night as the Lakewood Board of Education held an Open House for students who formerly attended an out-of-district program – such as Tiny Tots or Ready-Set-Grow – and wished to enroll in the new district-run Early Childhood Center program. The Open House was held at the new Linden Avenue site.
As Matzav.com has reported, the township Board of Education made a final decision this week to bring all preschool services in-house, severing ties with all private special education providers just as the school year got underway.
Tiny Tots had provided both special education and regular education, and was comprised mostly of frum children, who received the special services they needed along with religious instruction. The new in-district program, in addition to being somewhat integrated with public school children, cannot have religious instruction. It is these two issues that have some parents up in arms.
District officials and school board members have said that the recommendation to no longer outsource the programs had been discussed for months and is aimed at saving Lakewood taxpayers money that had been going to line the pockets of the owners of the private special-ed companies.
At last night’s Open House, which began at 8 p.m., well over 100 members of Lakewood’s immigrant community poured in to enroll their children in the regular education portion of the new Linden Avenue site, for which there are 50 openings. These people were told to return today, at which time the lottery will be held to determine who received those 50 slots in the regular education portion of the tuition-free program.
At the beginning of the meeting, there were just a handful of frum people present, mostly former Tiny Tots parents. As the minutes passed, additional frum parents showed up, totaling about 75 in all.
They were joined by less than a handful of non-Jewish parents of special-ed children from the Macedonia Day Care Center, which also lost its contract.
According to parents at the Open House, those special-ed children who require self contained classes may end up in all-frum classes if enough students are enrolled. There will not be religious instruction, however.
“The question is whether I will enroll my daughter in some kind of playgroup in the afternoon to learn about Shabbos, the Yomim Tovim and the like,” one father said.
Those students who do not require a self-contained class will be integrated with regular-ed students at a ratio of four special-ed students to 14 regular students, said one parent. Based on the turnout, he said, those fourteen students will likely be from Lakewood’s Mexican population.
“Based on what we were told, you’ll have four frum kids getting special-ed services mainstreamed with 14 others,” he said.
Some frustrated parents last night said that if the regular-education frum students from Tiny Tots would enter the lottery for the 50 regular-ed spots on Linden Avenue, the frum special-ed children would at least have a chance of being integrated with mostly other frum children. With none of those parents in attendance, that won’t happen, they said.
The issue is by no means clear, however, since parents had been told by some sources that at the Linden Avenue site, due to a “continuity clause,” the makeup of the Tiny Tots classes would be replicated at the new in-district site.
Some are now claiming that the School Board itself was lied to about what the nature of the Linden Avenue site would be.
Another issue discussed last night was kosher food at the Linden Avenue site.
“We were told that only kosher food would be brought to the Linden Avenue site,” said one frum parent, “but that never made sense, because if it is an integrated program, then other students, of other persuasions, would of course bring food of their choice to school, and no one could – or should – stop them. After all, it’s a public school program, not a privately-run service. This is just frustrating, however, because whoever even put that idea forth misled us.”
“We aren’t pointing fingers,” said a father. “We just want to resolve this so our children are placed in a program where they can receive the vital therapy they need without compromising on their Yahadus. Those of us here cannot afford to enroll in a regular frum playgroup and pay out of pocket to have our children receive their therapy. That is why we are here trying to make the best of this. But we still do not know what ‘the best’ is.”