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Fine Print: List of State-Imposed Rules and Polices for Special Education

New Jersey's aggressive attention to special education means that the state is sometimes out in front of federal regulations.

Summary: The state Department of Education (DOE) is required each year to publish the list of rules, regulations and policies regarding special education that exceed the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The latest document went out to all districts last week.

What it means: New Jersey has some of the most aggressive special education regulations in the country, exceeding the federal requirements in several key areas that have to do with how children with disabilities are identified and served. That has brought some criticism from those who say the state goes too far and its mandates lead to excessive costs.

New format: Aware of the criticism, the state last year changed how it described these rules and laws and added explanations for each one that exceeded federal law. The previous document had only listed the regulations and laws, without explanation.

Why it matters: While some of it may seem arcane, the minutia of the laws and regulations -- state and federal -- frequently lie at the center of protracted and often expensive disputes between districts and parents over how best to serve these children. The state’s regulations often are intended to head off such disputes. For example, one state regulation requires that students not only be evaluated for services within 90 days, but also see services initiated within that time to prevent "undue delays."

A big one: New Jersey’s specific mandates on how programs are delivered are the most notable example of how it exceeds federal law, which only establishes broad requirements.

Class sizes and time: The state lays out requirements for class sizes as small as eight children per teacher, and instructional time that is equal that of general education students.

The rationale: "These regulations address programmatic factors such as class type, class size, instructional time and program options. The regulations provide local districts across the state with a standard means for organizing and implementing programs. Additionally, the regulations provide parents with a set of expectations regarding the configuration of various program options,"

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