After a strong reaction from the Millburn-Short Hills Special Education Committee (M-SPEC), at the Board of Education meeting on Jan. 14, to the formation of a new parent advisory committee for special education, Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield responds in the letter to the editor below:
January 17, 2013
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly clear up some misunderstandings and answer some questions, to the extent I can in public, concerning a recent call for volunteers for the new “Special Education Parent Advisory Group” in the Millburn public schools.
On January 11, 2013, we sent out a call for volunteers for this new group. The purpose of the group is to “provide input to the district on issues concerning students with disabilities” as required by NJ special education code (N.J.A.C. 6A:14-1.2(h)). The group will have representation from each school building and from each program (e.g., PreK, ABA, self-contained, etc.) as well. The selection process will be finalized and published shortly—Livingston has an excellent process in place that we are studying to see if we can adapt for use here.
Prior to this time, the district has been meeting the requirement for parent input through the Millburn-Short Hills Special Education Committee (commonly known as “M-SPEC”). This organization has been in existence for years and has provided (and continues to provide) many important services to the families of children with special needs. However, recently, M-SPEC has changed to a fundraising entity, and in addition the balance between “advocating” and “advising” has shifted towards an emphasis on the former. As a result, the need for a more independent “advisory” group, without any possible conflicts of interest, has arisen.
One very important point is M-SPEC is not being disbanded. Rather, M-SPEC will continue to exist and provide advocacy and support services to parents and families. We are simply setting up a parallel, independent group that will focus solely on providing helpful, collaborative and constructive (which can certainly be critical if need be) ideas and observations and concerns to us regarding the district’s special education program. It is possible for a parent to be a member of this new group and of M-SPEC at the same time, as there is no intent to isolate one or the other group.
Lastly, I have received criticism recently when I decline to provide detailed reasons as to why we are converting our source of advice from M-SPEC to this new, independent group. I understand the frustration of M-SPEC supporters who disagree with this decision and who don’t understand why I continue to stay silent with many of the details. However, sometimes the right decision is not the easy or obvious one, and sometimes the reasons for a decision don’t lend themselves to public discourse. This is one such time on both of those fronts. It is my responsibility to protect privacy rights, and to protect the interests of the district, broadly defined. I will continue to do both of those things to the best of my ability, even if it means absorbing public criticism without being able to respond.
James A. Crisfield, Ed.D.
Millburn Township Public Schools