North Arlington Extends School Year for Special Needs Students

Some students in North Arlington may be kicking and screaming when they realize their Board of Education members have approved the extension of their school year, however, studies show that it can prove to be a necessity for some. About 60 students in the Special Education and autistic program will be going to school through July 28.

On May 12, during the BOE public meeting, President George McDermott made a motion to approve the extension of the school year for Special Education and Autistic programs, and it was unanimously agreed upon by all members present. The timeline in which the year would be extended is from July 1 through July 28 of this year, for a total of 19 days. The programs will run between four and four and a half hours, and will be held in either North Arlington Middle School, or George Washington Elementary School. The extended school year program is not mandatory for the students but officials believe most students will take advantage of the program.

According to the BOE agenda, the extension also includes a summer salary for 24 staff members, classroom aides, Child Study Team members, and bus aids ranging from $900 to just over $3,000 each over the entire 19-day period.

“Our staff which includes certified teachers of the handicapped, certified speech/language specialists, teacher assistants, an occupational therapist and a physical therapist provides academic focus and instruction,” North Arlington Superintendent Oliver Stringham said of his summer staff. In addition, “lesson plans are in accordance with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”

Extended School Years, otherwise known as ESY, are meant to engage students who may need the extra attention, specified curriculums, or simply an extra few weeks of schooling to help retain the information for a longer period of time. Students with disabilities in particular, whether it is a social, mental or a learning disability, are recommended for ESY in order to ensure their understanding of the material, as well as their continuation onto the following grade.

However, protocols have been put into place, nationwide, to delegate who will attend ESY, and who can be excused. For instance, regression and recoupment of a student’s critical learning skills are key factors that are considered. As is the amount of progress toward a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals, student behavior interfering with the benefits of Special Education, whether long summer vacations impair the student’s ability to retain information, and lastly, the nature and/or severity of the student’s disability.

All of these factors are used in the determination of whether ESY is a necessary step to be taken, but the program itself can vary from state to school district.

Though ESY is not a new concept to the United States, school districts have slowly made the adjustments to the curriculum, teacher contracts and budgets to get the ball rolling on what has been proven to be effective for nearly a decade. In fact, according to a 2009 study by EDU in Review, the United States was known to have the shortest amount of school days internationally, with U.S. academics treading 180 days annually, while Japan was studying for 243 days out of the year.

But it wasn’t the statistics and comparisons to other countries that stalled the U.S. in extending the academic year, but the costs involved in doing so.

A 2010 study in Minnesota found that extending their school days from 175 to 200 would amount to about $1,000 per student, totaling their annual cost to about $750 million a year. Figures such as this most school districts cannot afford to accommodate overnight. But then there are districts, such as North Arlington’s, that have accomplished this feat and maintained it as well.

“We have been operating a very successful Special Education Extended School Year program for many years now.” Stringham continued, “there is empirical data that shows the benefits of a longer school year which includes academic growth, better socialization, and added self-confidence.

Our program provides ample time for students to continue growth that might be lost through the long summer vacation.”

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