On June 20, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) announced the appointment of a special education ombudsman. The ombudsman is Dr. Dolores Walther. The ombudsman is a neutral resource for those involved in the special-education system in the state.

The ombudsman position was created by statute in January 2016. The duties of the special education ombudsman shall include, but need not be limited to, the following:

(1) To serve as a source of information for parents, students, educators, and interested members of the public to help them better understand state and federal laws and regulations governing special education;

(2) To provide information and support to parents of students with disabilities in navigating and understanding the process for obtaining special education evaluations and services;

(3) To provide information and communication strategies to parents and school districts for resolving a disagreement regarding the identification, evaluation, classification, placement, or provision of a free, appropriate public education, or disciplinary action, of a student with a disability; and to educate parents on the available options for resolving such disputes, including due process hearings, mediation, and other alternative dispute resolution processes;

(4) To work neutrally and objectively with all parties to help ensure that a fair process is followed and that the special education system functions equitably and as intended;

(5) To identify any patterns of complaints that emerge regarding special education rights and services, and to recommend strategies for improvement to the New Jersey Department of Education;

(6) To assist the NJDOE in creating public information programs designed to acquaint and educate parents and the public about the ombudsman’s duties; and

(7) To serve as a resource for disability-related information and referrals to other available programs and services for individuals with disabilities, including early intervention and transition to adult life.

The ombudsman can be reached at (609) 292-0147 or by email. Additional information about the role of the ombudsman is available on the New Jersey Department of Education’s Special Education Ombudsman webpage.