By Matthew Sockol
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Concerns that parents of students with special needs have about the Freehold Township K-8 School District were raised during a recent meeting of the Board of Education.
The issues were brought to the attention of the board on Dec. 13 by Len Nachbar, who is a member of the Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG).
SEPAG is an offshoot of the Parent Advisory Council for Excellence (PACE), an organization for parents and guardians who have children with special needs.
According to Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun, SEPAG has the same members as PACE and was formed this year.
“There are some very troubling perceptions among the parents of special education students and they feel they are not being addressed by the administration and the board,” Nachbar said.
“There is a perception that Dr. Kasun is much less responsive now to their kids than when he first came to the district many years ago.
“The perception among many of the parents is that they are afraid to speak up because there will be repercussions against their children. There is a perception that the children are not being handled properly when there are problems,” he said.
As an example of alleged improper care, Nachbar spoke about a parent who said that when her special needs child has an episode in school, the child is taken into the hallway instead of into a “safe room.”
“Other children get to see the child in the hallway,” he said. “It is not the best way to get the child to calm down and it is certainly not the best situation for the child to relate to other children in the school.”
Nachbar also discussed perceptions regarding an alleged lack of training and life skills provided for special education students and staff members assigned to special education students allegedly trying to move the students out of a school.
“One parent was told it would be better if the child took an hour bus ride each day out of the district as opposed to being handled in the district,” he told the board.
To address the concerns from parents and to have policies put in place at the district’s schools, Nachbar requested that the board and administrators meet with the leaders of SEPAG before the budget for the 2017-18 school year is finalized.
Kasun said he was open to meeting with the members of SEPAG and PACE.
“Every year, I have told that organization that my door is open and I will gladly meet with them and sit with them before budget (discussions), after budget and during the summer,” the superintendent said.
“That offer is still on the table. I have not changed since I have been here … I would be more than willing to meet with them and the director of special education. (Assistant superintendents) Pamela Haimer and Neal Dickstein would also join that meeting,” Kasun said.
Board President Christopher Marion said the perceptions Nachbar mentioned are not necessarily reflective of what happens in the district.
“I do know that this district takes the education of all of our children very seriously,” Marion said. “The way the central office handles things and the things I have seen on this board would indicate that they do care very much what happens in this district to all of our children and we do take these concerns seriously. Sometimes, you have specific issues that occur and I think that sometimes those perceptions are not the reality, nor are they as widespread across that district.”
In other business on Dec. 13, the board accepted an $18,202 donation from PACE to fund 20 programs in the district.
The donation included a $2,204 grant for PASS (Program for After School Studies); a $1,944 grant for Bulldog Buddies; a $1,944 grant for Kids Connection; a $1,935 grant for the Model Me Kids Social Skills Group; a $1,200 grant for Special Olympics Bowling; a $1,120 grant for Full Steam Ahead; a $1,056 grant for Social Skills in Sports; and a $1,054 grant for Let’s All Have Fun.