On June 12th Governor Phil Murphy announced that school districts could start providing in-person summer programming for students with disabilities — called Extended School Year, or ESY — on July 6th.
But two days earlier Lakewood Public Schools (LPS) announced that it will begin ESY on July 1st.
What’s up with that? I decided to ask Michael Inzelbuch (who serves as board attorney as well as de facto superintendent and school board president so maybe his $750K+ salary is a bargain). [Update via email from Inzelbuch: “ESY will begin on July 6, 2020 and end on August 12, 2020.”]
As readers know, LPS has been doing in-person evaluations of students with disabilities since May 11th. NJEA, the state teacher union, sent the district this “cease and desist” letter for violating social-distancing rules and demanded that Inzelbuch “bring this reckless action to an immediate end.” He didn’t and told me yesterday that district staff members — all there voluntarily, he said — have already completed 500 speech, occupational, psychological, physical, and learning evaluations.
Inzelbuch also noted that LPS’s reopening plans have been approved by the Board of the Ocean County Health Department (Lakewood fan Senator Bob Singer is on the board) and the Lakewood police department. While he is “coordinating with the Governor’s Office,” the Governor’s date of July 6th is, he said, “arbitrary.”
Currently 300 public schools students are ready to begin in-person ESY on July 1st with 150 staff members. “We’ve been working for months to reopen,” he said, and tomorrow bus companies will be asked to submit bids for transportation. Today the district is beginning to evaluate English Language Learners, a big chunk of the district: At Lakewood Middle School, for example, the primary language for 81% of students is Spanish.
I asked him why he is so opposed to remote instruction. “It doesn’t work,” he exclaimed. “No more zoom or gloom!”
What about the 37,000 Lakewood non-public students who attend ultra-Orthodox Jewish day schools? They are already reopening, he said. What about students with disabilities who are placed out-of-district at public expense, per the federal law IDEA? (Currently Lakewood sends 200 students to the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, a private special education school in Lakewood certified by the state at a current tuition rate of $127,446.90 per student. Last year LPS paid SCHI $24 million in tuition and other costs.) Inzelbuch professed ignorance about SCHI’s plans but said students there were welcome to participate in LPS’s Extended School Year program. Another private special education school popular among Lakewood’s ultra-Orthodox, the Special Children’s Center, is planning on reopening in July.
“I’m not letting students fail,” he said, “not on my watch.”