By Mrs. Ziva Kriger, Lakewood, NJ
Last April, the community voted for change and wanted to see their taxes lowered. The voters understood that something would have to be cut. However, the assumption was that the board would cut real waste from the public schools and streamline the Board of Education operating systems, not make cuts from an already strapped Yeshiva system. Instead, critical services have been cut from our yeshivos, including therapy and special education cuts and now even the busing is under attack.
The purpose of this letter is to speak for the one group who can not speak for themselves, and that is our children! Our children are being shortchanged in so many ways, however the extent of the issues are beyond the scope of this short letter. Instead, please allow a few examples to give you a taste of what Our children are up against. First a note of caution: Numbers are misleading and sometimes are completely false. In an open letter by 3 members of the board, the public was informed that approximately 120 children receive occupational therapy and physical therapy at the Princeton Avenue site. At a quick glance, 120 may seem like a substantial number. Now, divide the number l20 roughly in half, which would mean that 60 children are receiving OT and 60 PT! There are more than 20 boys and girls yeshivos in our town. How is it possible that only 60 children are in need of OT? Ask our children. They know differently. This therapy is not even provided at the Yeshivos (where it should be). As far as “extensive accommodations that exist for working parents”, let us see how this process was run for the 2010-2011 school year:
Parents were given one day on which to call for therapy appointments. Parents sat on the phone for hours pressing redial, only to be told when they finally got through several hours later that no slots were left. This is what is really going on. As for the number of children who were approved for SCHI again we are misinformed and told that 19 children were admitted, when in truth the number is 11 while the otherr 8 are children that moved from pre-school to elementary school.
In addition, two of the eleven were admitted only after costly litigation, which comes out of – you guessed it – the Board of Ed budget – so much for cuts. There are at least another 8 severely disabled children who should have been approved, but weren’t. One last example of inaccurate reporting was the “fact” that a class was added to the STARS (Non- Public Supplemental Service Program). In truth, a full day preschool class was cut from the program – a teacher was laid off because of it and many children who turned 3 during the school year were unable to enter STARS, because lo and behold the program was full. The class that was added was a half day primary class, which in no way fills the need of preschool children – so much for accurate reporting.
The children of Lakewood have been hurt in other ways as well.
Preschool children who are identified by a parent or other caretaker as having learning, developmental and physical delays are required by law to go through an extensive evaluation process before receiving services. Unfortunately, recently, many needy children have been denied evaluations, often when parents failed to accurately portray the extent of a child’s weakness. This denial causes critical time in a child’s development to be wasted and sometimes it can take up to 6 months for the board to reconsider an evaluation. In several cases, the Board members were surprised to see just how needy the child was. In one instance, at the final IEP meeting, when the team shared the child’s program and placement, the parent asked the team n If my child is indeed as needy as you are now telling me based on your evaluations – why did you initially deny my child an evaluation’?” The answer was, “Well, you did not cry enough at the initial meeting.”
It is crucial for us to realize that our mosdos cannot run if early detection of learning difficulties is not occurring in a reliable and trustworthy manner. One more example, there is a unique program which runs in many of our mosdos called M’kor HaChinuch. M’kor HaChinuch is a series of self-contained classrooms geared for children with learning disabilities, who are not managing in mainstream classrooms. This program is partially funded by the Board of Ed, but proposed budget cuts are threatening the existence of this life saving program. Not only is this program essential to the children in the self contained classes, it is equally essential to our mainstream children. When a learning disabled child is in a mainstream classroom, the rebbi or morah, must invest a disproportionate amount of time into that child’s education, thus taking away needed time and attention from the other children in the class. Due to the already large size of the typical yeshiva class, adding an additional major responsibility to an already overburdened teacher can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camels back. Clearly, we, the children, can not afford to loose these self contained programs. We also cannot afford to lose much needed speech and language services, which again contrary to what were written have been severely cut. This cut again led to the loss of many veteran speech therapists in our schools, and to children being seen in large, non-cohesive speech groups.
We, the children, are begging you, the adults, to take a serious took at the real issues that face us.
Dear board members, are you truly proud of the fact that for the first time ever many of us, your children, are in public school? You can call the Linden preschool program by anyone of many innocent names, but we know better. It is public school! So to make it kosher, you provide kosher food – somewhat reminiscent of the seudas Achashveirosh, don’t you think? It would be important also to note that, contrary to what was written, several of the Tiny Tots casualties were not and are not receiving proper intervention or therapy.
We would like to make our adults aware of one more critical point. A working spectrum of quality special education services is the equivalent of a good insurance plan. As with any insurance plan, we hope that we will never need the services, but most of us do not have to look far to find a neighbor, relative or friend whose child or children currently receive needed special-education or therapy services. If you yourself do not need the services right now, thank Hashem and be happy that you are fulfilling your share by paying into your “insurance policy” every year.
We, the children, do associate the candidates with their actions (what else should we associate them with?). As we know, actions speak louder than words, so we implore you our responsible adults to please go out and vote – not for change and budget cuts, but rather for responsible and thoughtful leadership who will make decisions based on our real educational needs. By working together as a united community, may we all be zoche to the true leadership we are waiting for, bevias haMoshiach.
Remember…it’s gonna be the little kinderlach!