Below is an excerpt from an opinion article in NewJersey.com by a Special Education atorney named Paul O'Neill that discusses how New Jersey is treating some special education students' right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). No one likes distance learning. It's hard as hell with and FOR our children. It's hard on the teachers and therapists many of whom have their own children to tend to while working online with their students. It's frustrating. Time consuming. Gets in the way of other work, like our actual jobs. Like tending to our homes that we are now in 24/7. And in my home? Bella's programming means I'm ignoring my older two daughters with autism who ALSO have a distance version of their Day Program. I can't Zoom on two devices at once. Here in Connecticut, my daughter's school team has created a plethora of programming specific to her IEP and needs using ZOOM and a system called Schoology.com. Yesterday was our heavy day - we had five Zoom sessions of 40 minutes each. And I was present and facilitating for every minute. I did not have to sign any sort of waiver of my daughter's rights, or mine as her Mother and the keeper of her education. Adding stress for families is a low blow.
By Paul O’Neill
The Huffington Post recently reported that some parents of students with disabilities in New Jersey are being required to sign waivers before their children with disabilities can access services and supports remotely during COVID-19 closures. These forms apparently require parents to give up their right to press charges for negligence and injuries of various sorts in connection with providing remote services and forbid parents from being present for, listening in on, or recording virtual educational sessions.
That is outrageous and at odds with the law. Students with disabilities are protected by a range of federal and state laws collectively ensuring that they can readily access the services and supports they need — this is called the right to a “free, appropriate public education.”
Our special education laws empower parents to play an active role in decision-making and assessing the success and sufficiency of services. Forcing parents to sign a mandatory contract requiring them to give up the right to be involved in their child’s education, remote or otherwise, undermines those rights. Insisting that they give up the right to hold the school or district accountable for doing a decent job is also unacceptable. On what viable grounds could public school authorities demand such concessions? What authority permits them to withhold special education services unless parents give up their rights? I have been an education lawyer for more than 20 years and I am unfamiliar with any such authority.
According to the Huffington Post, the law firm that drafted the contract used by some New Jersey districts defended this approach by citing the unprecedented times we are living through and the novel issues of privacy and service delivery that have been prompted by statewide school closures. Fair enough — having to suddenly shut down normal operations and shift from in-person instruction to largely online learning in the space of a few weeks was unprecedented and extraordinarily challenging. There remains a great deal of confusion about what to do and how to do it. However, the several rounds of guidance issued from the U.S. Department of Education since schools began shutting down in March have made it clear that districts and schools should do their best to meet the needs of students despite the chaos and confusion, and that the rights and needs of students with disabilities cannot be set aside or marginalized.
Read more at Outrageous N.J. school contracts make parents promise not to sue | Opinion