Petition to keep handicapped students at Lawrence fails to sway board

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:53

    School board: Transfer of students is ‘out of our hands’ SUSSEX - Cheryl Novak arrived at the Sussex-Wantage Regional School District’s June 24 board of education meeting armed with a petition of 180 signatures from residents who want the multiply handicapped class at the Lawrence School to stay. But Novak left the meeting without the results she had hoped for. Just as it stated a few months ago, the board intends to move forward with plans to transfer six severely handicapped students to the Sussex Middle School so that they will be placed with peers at the same age level, as recommended by the New Jersey Department of Education. “It’s out of our hands” due to a state law that mandates this transfer, said Sussex-Wantage Regional Board President Thomas Card. He added that the board appealed the state’s decision recently only to be informed that the school district isn’t eligible for a waiver. But Novak and a few other residents questioned whether the transfer of the students is in fact mandated by the state or merely recommended by the state education department. In March, a spokesman for the state, Richard Vespuccci, told The Advertiser News via e-mail that the federal special education law IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act), plus state special education laws and regulations, “presume that students are educated with their age appropriate peers. Since we believe that this is what the laws and regulations presume, we recommend that the district move the students into the middle school building.” Lisa Frisbie, a recently elected board member, suggested that the state’s letter of denial on the district’s appeal as well as the state statute requiring the transfer be posted to the district’s Web site ( Novak is the foster mother of two children in the multiply handicapped class. She argued that the six children who are subject to the transfer “are very different from quote normal special ed kids.” For instance, her foster son Teddy uses a permanent feeding tube. She maintains that the six children are already accepted by the other children at the Lawrence School, while the playground and facilities there are already designed to accommodate their needs. Diane Mulford, another Wantage resident who spoke out against the transfer, is a teacher’s assistant in the special education department at High Point Regional High School. She said she has spent quite a bit of time with these students and believes any plan to transfer them to the Sussex Middle School “is cruel.” For instance, she said, if the middle school ever had to be evacuated for any reason, it would be extremely difficult to transport the handicapped children to the local firehouse or other facilities since the grounds at the middle school “are extremely bumpy” and aren’t wheelchair accessible. “You don’t do that to a medically fragile child,” said Mulford. She believes the school board should seek an injunction against the state to prevent the September transfer from occurring.