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M-SPEC Protests New Parent Advisory Committee for Special Ed

The formation of a new parents advisory committee for special education throughout the district spurred a strong reaction from Millburn-Short Hills Special Education Committee at Monday night's Board of Education Meeting.

Millburn-Short Hills Special Education Committee (M-SPEC) members filled the Jan. 14 Millburn Board of Education meeting to protest a weekend letter from the district’s director of special services announcing the formation of a new parent advisory committee for special education.  

The parents, whose children receive special education services, received a letter from Julianna Kusz, asking them to apply for the new committee.

Kusz’s letter explained the district was looking for those “interested in providing helpful constructive feedback regarding district programs and services.”

While at least a dozen members demanded answers why the district would need another organization to support families with a child that had learning challenges, a few were optimistic about it.

“M-SPEC has served the special education community and has been an integral part of this district community for over 20 years,” the organization’s current president, Laura Bencivenga, said. “Yet it seems the district’s special education department wants to eliminate M-SPEC as a parent advisory group.”

Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield explained the new advising board was required by state.

“We will select the members of the new parent advisory committee on a broad representation from each school and program,” he said. “It is not first-come, first-served, [but] there’s not going to be some criteria that we prescreen parents.”

Dissatisfied with Crisfield’s answer, several parents claimed the administration’s answer was not clear or transparent. The parents argued this new committee would allow the administration to hand-pick its members. 

Bencivenga added, "The executive board was elected by parents. We are a voice for all parents, not just the ones that have been prescreened to sit on an advisory panel."

“We just have to go into a different direction with the advisory committee,” Crisfield said. He explained M-SPEC could still operate and submit feedback. 

Natalie Hiott-Levine agreed with the administration and welcomed a new organization. She said M-SPEC was not trained for privacy issues that come with handling communications with specials needs students. 

As an example, she said, M-SPEC had sent an email revealing private information to its almost 200-member email group.

M-SPEC accused the board of forming a new organization because it didn’t like what M-SPEC was saying. It argued its organization already fulfilled state requirements and another was unnecessary.

Bencivenga said the organization attempted to set up multiple meetings with the administration but the administration allegedly cancelled them, saying they had no plans to reschedule after the last cancelled meeting in November. 

"The administration has not come to an M-SPEC meeting and they will not set a meeting with us," she said.

However, Sharon Cohen, a past executive member of M-SPEC said in the 2011-12 school year, the organization had a different relationship with the administration.

“Strangely enough we had an incredibly cooperative relationship with the district, open door policy,” Cohen said. “So maybe we should ask ourselves, what’s different this year than last year? What caused the relationship to breakdown? Maybe we should ask ourselves that before we cast stones at the board.”

dana lustbader January 18, 2013 at 10:19 PM
Dear Zoinks, You seem to know very little yet speak with a sharp tongue. Winston School is a school for students with learning disabilities and shares a facility with Christ Church; it is their assembly space where many well known, professional speakers have provided parent education for hundreds reaching far outside of Millburn. What Mspec and Winston have in common is to provide insight about disabilities that affect families each and every day, in this case, ADHD. As for your concern about your tax dollars being used for special education send outs, trust me, Millburn does not comply with this theory, for the many whom need it most and whom they can not serve. In fact, our tax dollars, along with dozens of other families, do nothing for our children because appropriate reading remediation programs, support programs and teacher training are not in place. Most of us have no choice than to send our children out of district for help at our own expense and stay in town not to uproot our families. These are emotionally painful and financial decisions that you have not considered. So Mr. "Zoinks", you get the benefit of our tax dollars and many get a dismissive, callous administration.
ChristinaE January 19, 2013 at 02:58 AM
That's not true. I have children with language based learning disorders and they are both doing very well.
NDS January 20, 2013 at 09:08 PM
That IS true, for my child with a reading disorder. The system serves some and does not serve others. To what extent? We don't know. Should we know? Should even a single child from any district pay for the rest of her life for failures, some of which may be systemic, of the system her parents entrust their child to be educated? We need a parent-driven voice for ALL our children. MSPEC is well-established, widely respected and parent-driven. Its leaders were voted in. Would Hartshorn, Deerfield, Glenwood, South Mountain or Wyoming's PTO tolerate being ignored by administrators? They fundraise and give input to the schools on all matters of concern. This is unacceptable interference by the administration. It is in no way in keeping wtih the spirit of the statute. The alternative group whose membership is to be selected by the Director of Special Services is a nonsense. It is not what intended in any way by the policymakers of the code - NJAC 6A:14-1.2(h).
MarkDS January 21, 2013 at 07:06 PM
The "in" group in MSPEC has driven away so many people in recent years the "vote" is in no way representative of anything except for the self-dealing individuals who have taken over MSPEC.
M OKeef January 22, 2013 at 03:15 AM
Who votes for MSPEC members?

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