Critics Say Paterson’s Special Ed Program Heading Toward Disaster with Layoffs

By Brenda Flanagan

“It’s a mess. Paterson is a total mess,” said Luisa Alcala-Van Ess.

She’s a child psychologist in Paterson schools and claims not only is the district’s special ed program deficient, it’s headed towards disaster if dozens of special ed teachers and aides get laid off — as administrators slash hundreds of teachers and aides from the payroll here.

“Some children need a personal aide because of their disabilities. You have to follow the law. Now with these layoffs, I think it’s gonna be bedlam,” said Alcala-Van Ess.

Alcala-Van Ess filed a complaint last October — charging the district didn’t properly process learning plans for special ed students. Paterson was ordered to make corrections, but she says plans for more than 1,200 special ed kids are still not legally complete.

“There is no way. They have to become compliant with that legal document. These children have to be serviced. What’s gonna happen? You can’t just send a substitute into a special education room,” Alcala-Van Ess said.

Rosie Grant heads a parents’ advocacy group. She says 175 Paterson teachers are currently slated for layoffs, plus more than 100 aides. Add 200 unfilled staff vacancies, and you’ve got about 500 positions — gone.

“I think overcrowded classrooms will lead to some disciplinary and classroom management issues, which means more suspensions, more expulsions, more kids choosing not to come to school because it’s so cramped and uncomfortable and they’re not learning. So it’s gonna be challenging. It’s going to be even more challenging,” Grant said.

“I’m really worried that’s gonna cause a lot of trouble for us, as a district,” said school board member Corey Teague.

Teague says he’s worried about special ed kids like his son.

“If they’re not gonna receive those required hours and scheduled services because of a lack of staff in the department, we’re gonna be in big trouble, as a district,” Teague said. What kind of trouble? “I believe there’ll be lawsuits from parents,” he said.

A district spokeswoman says, “…we are now conducting a school by school analysis to make sure that the district is in compliance with special education classroom size requirements and/or individualized education plans… If additional adjustments are required, we will redistribute staff as needed…some of those who have received notices…could be called back.”

Regarding state-ordered corrections to Paterson’s special ed program, she says, “…we have met all of the criteria which included a revision of some practices and procedures.”

Critics say their voices will be heard. They’re planning a school walkout for Friday to protest budget cuts and layoffs.