Letter to the Editor: Laura Colnes

Resident urges community at large to take interest in special-education bills circulating in Trenton.

There is a bill in the state legislature that will help young adults with disabilities reach their full potential.

S. 3434 was approved by the state Senate. It temporarily extends the age of eligibility for special education and related services to students attaining the age of 21 during the next three school years. The Senate bill also identifies funding sources to assist districts with expenses. The Assembly version, A. 5366, is in limbo.

COVID has revealed the shortfalls of remote instruction. I see it as a teacher, but more importantly, I see it as mom to my 21 year old son Sammy, who has autism. Particularly hard hit are students like my son who are in the final year of high school transition programs. This year teaches students critical life and vocational skills needed to become independent, functioning adults in a world where supports disappear. 

As required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, transition programs include community-based instruction, which provides off-site instruction in daily living skills, and structured learning experiences, which are supervised, in-the-field educational activities to help students gain employment skills. You cannot teach a young adult how to walk into a store, with a list, retrieve items, pay for items, and behave appropriately with the distractions of public places while they are sitting at home in front of a computer.  You cannot teach on-the job skills in different vocational sites from behind a computer screen. As a result, students have been unable to receive their appropriate programming since March 13, 2020.  The bill could give special education students the one final year they missed. 

Without this replacement year, there will be no time for students to recoup these skills. 

If passed into law, this bill will help students, provided that districts agree to the replacement year.  It is my hope that such a law will impress upon districts the importance of their Constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient education” for all students.  As of now, all over the state, and here in our own backyard, parents are asking for this replacement year and are being told “no.”  I am urging Members of the Assembly and districts to do the right thing. Stop saying “no” to our children’s futures. Say “yes” to this missed year and say “yes” to their potential, their value, their worth. 

Laura Colnes

Marlton, N.J.