Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Troy Singleton and Daniel Benson to help protect the rights of students with disabilities was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday.
The bill (A-1103) would establish the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the Department of Education. The office would serve as a resource to provide confidential information and support to parents, students and educators regarding special education rights and services.
"Parents of students with disabilities often don't know where to turn when they have a question or concern about their child's education, and so they find it more difficult to advocate on their behalf," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Creating an office dedicated to informing and advising parents, students and school staff on special education issues will help ensure that New Jersey can execute its mission of providing all students with a quality education."
The ombudsman's duties would include, but not be limited to:
- helping interested parties better understand laws governing special education;
- providing information and support to parents in navigating the process of obtaining special education evaluations and services;
- aiding parents and school districts working to resolve disagreements related to education or disciplinary action;
- recommending strategies to improve the state's implementation of special education services; and
- serving as a resource for disability-related information and referrals to other available programs and services for individuals with disabilities, including early intervention and transition to adult life.
"Addressing the special educational needs of a child with a disability often requires an understanding of specific rights, services and programs that can be complex and overwhelming for parents who simply want the best for their children," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "This bill will help ensure that students receive the proper accommodations and can make meaningful academic progress."
"Every student has the right to receive a free and appropriate education. For students with learning disabilities, this may entail the school providing an assistive technology device or a team crafting an individualized education program," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "By providing parents and guardians with an easily accessible, confidential one-stop resource for advice and support, the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman will play an instrumental role in ensuring that students with disabilities gain the skills they need to reach their full potential."
Under the legislation, the commissioner of the Department of Education is to appoint "a person of recognized judgment, integrity and objectivity," who is skilled in communication and conflict resolution as the ombudsman.
In addition to the aforementioned duties, the bill directs the ombudsman to report to the New Jersey Board of Education and the commissioner of the Department of Education annually regarding services provided during the year and recommendations to improve special education procedures and services.
The measure was advanced by the Assembly Education Committee.