ADVOCATING FOR OUR CHILDREN
Assemblywoman Annette Quijano Visits JEC
And Learns About Issues Facing Families with Special Needs
Elizabeth, NJ – The lack of funding for educational services for private school students with special needs has come to the forefront, with a potential bill to balance the situation expected to be presented by Assembly Deputy Majority Leader Annette Quijano of District 20.
The Assemblywoman visited the Jewish Educational Center as part of an OU-Advocacy NJ-led initiative to push for greater equality and affordability in the private school sector and heard from parents, educators and students during her morning at the school.
JEC Board Trustee Mrs. Ora Sheinson spearheaded the school’s involvement and coordinated the legislator’s visit to the two campuses in conjunction with the Orthodox Union Advocacy NJ leadership.
The visit followed a delegation meeting in Trenton, which she helped coordinate two weeks earlier, with additional legislators including Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, Senate Education Chairperson Teresa Ruiz, Senator Steven Oroho and Jessani Gordon and Gregory Kocher of the NJ Department of Education’s Office of Non Public Schools. She was joined by additional JEC parents Mr. Seth Dombeck, Rabbi Jonathan Schwartz, Mrs. Bracha Schechter and Mrs. Ilana Adams.
“It is important that we show interest in local legislation,” said Rabbi Josh Pruzansky, the OU’s NJ Regional Director. He has been running mini missions to Trenton and locally to help raise awareness for this cause.
Regarding the visit to JEC he said, “the Assemblywoman has shown enthusiastic support for a bill that will help kids with special educational needs and relieve their parents of a tremendous financial burden”. Currently, NJ day schools receive less than $100 per child in basic services such as technology and nursing. As part of the OU’s 2014 legislative agenda, Pruzansky is aiming to see that sum increased to permit district funding for programs and services for special needs students in religious schools as well as a tax credit to assist those families sending their children to non-public schools.
For her part, Assemblywoman Quijano engaged parents and educators in dialogue and asked many questions, wanting to fully understand the challenges facing families and schools faced with this issue. She shared that besides tuition affordability, she envisioned a bill that would include provisions for families of special needs students, such as telephone support and extra funding where needed. “We are a global society,” she said, “so we need to make sure that all of our children have the skills and education to help grow the economy of the future.”
One parent shared her experience of having two children in private school while a third was unable to receive the services he needed and was forced to attend public school. She explained to the Assemblywoman what that means for an orthodox Jewish child who follows a Torah-oriented lifestyle and who is affected on a daily basis in every aspect of his life because of his inability to attend Jewish private school with his peers.
From morning prayers to making blessings on the foods he eats, and from kashrut issues with friends from school to the many Shabbat and holiday differences and restrictions, she shared how painful it is for her child to live an orthodox lifestyle or even attend synagogue, where besides the social challenge of not knowing the other kids, he does not know how to read Hebrew, which is central to orthodox community living. The session was emotional and eye opening and the Assemblywoman showed great compassion as she absorbed the first-hand accounts.
When a private school such as JEC is unable to accept a child because of lack of funding for special needs, it is always painful. “We would love to meet all of our kids’ needs,” shared Mrs. Lisa Bond, JEC’s Early Childhood Director. “OT, PT, speech therapy, counselling, you name it… we are on the front lines and teachers cry to me, but what can we do?”
The Assemblywoman appeared committed to helping bring about change and shared that she felt that contrary to the current system where students must attend a school that meets their specific needs, that the funding should follow the child, and that wherever the students goes to school is where they should receive the services they need. Her position was applauded by all in attendance.
Rabbi Pruzansky acknowledged the JEC for engaging in this cause and thanked the school for its inspiration and partnership over the years. “This was an important visit,” he said. “This is dialogue and dialogue is very important.”