Special needs schools set to close

April 9, 2009 2:55:53 PM PDT
Hundreds of New Jersey students, who need the most help and guidance, will have to find another place to learn.The state will shut down 18 special needs schools, eight of which are in south Jersey.

Parents, students and teachers were notified last week that, by 2010, all the schools will be closed.

12-year-old Joel Peralta of Bridgeton is multiply handicapped. He suffers from severe spinal muscle atrophy, asthma, a visual impairment and a seizure disorder.

For the last six years he's attended the state's Dept. Of Children and Family Services Regional School in Vineland, where his mother says he's learned to walk better, feed himself and interact with others.

But now Joel's school, and 17 others like it across New Jersey for disabled and troubled kids, is set to close within the next 14 months.

His mom, Grissel Ayala, is worried.

"I am very worried about what's going to happen if they close the school. What's going to happen with my child?" Ayala asked.

Closing the school will save $4 million annually, but state officials say that is not what is behind the move. DCF says enrollment at these special schools is declining significantly and that the 560 students like Joel can be transferred to local or county schools.

"I don't think so," Ayala said. "I'm not satisifed with what they're saying. I don't think there will be another school that will provide the same kind of care that they give in this school."

And, unless they're picked up by other special-ed programs, about 500 teachers, classroom aides and bus drivers will lose their jobs.

"To see them out the door when they can really provide the services these children, these families need is not a good thing," said Rachel Merrill of CWA Local 1034.

Children and Family Services says shutting down the schools will be a painful process, but promised children like Joel will get the services they need.

Ayala says she wants fight the closings.

"I think it's a really bad idea what they're trying to do."

Schools in Egg Harbor Township and Mount Holly will close by the end of this June, other schools in south Jersey will close by June of next year.

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