Early last year, I devoted my Reflections column to special education, and a new commitment NJSBA had made to study the way our state provides special education.

Special education has always been close to my heart as an educator. I began my career as a special education teacher, and throughout my four decades in education, I have always felt a special responsibility to help children with disabilities achieve their utmost. But even the most ardent supporters of special education have to acknowledge that the cost of the programs and services is presenting long-term challenges to public schools—challenges that often divide our school communities into general education and special education factions.

To identify ways to control cost, yet preserve the quality of special education, NJSBA created the Special Education Task Force in January 2013. The Task Force has been led through an exhaustive study of trends in special education programming, funding, and effective practices by Dr. Gerald J. Vernotica, an associate professor at Montclair State University and a former assistant commissioner of education. The group consists of local school board members and administrators, who have a sincere commitment to special education. They spent over a year, consulting with more than 25 experts in special education and surveying the literature on the delivery and financing of special education services, with a special focus on academic achievement.

This month, the Task Force concluded its work, delivering a final 120-page report to me and NJSBA President John Bulina. The study will be unveiled at a special event on Thursday evening, April 10, at Crossroads Middle School, South Campus, in South Brunswick. The program will include a presentation by Dr. Vernotica on the Task Force’s findings and recommendations and a panel discussion with members of the group. It will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The Final Report of the NJSBA Special Education Task Force includes 20 recommendations for strategies to improve delivery of services and control costs. It goes beyond a list of recommended “how-to’s” and takes a stand on how we should perceive special, and public, education.  Public education should not be viewed as two separate systems—general education and special education—but rather as one continuum of instruction, programs, interventions, and services that respond to individual student needs.

In other words, as experts and advocates advised the Task Force, special education is a service provided to children, not a separate place to put them.  And that, in fact, is the title of the final Task Force report, “Special Education: A Service, Not a Place.”

I wholeheartedly invite you to attend the launch of the Special Education Task Force Report on April 10, to learn more about this vital and valuable project. For registration information, please contact Ann Marie Smith at [email protected] or (609) 278-5209.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].