The Asbury Park Press, as part of its series on racial disparities within New Jersey’s special education placements, zooms in on Lakewood Township Public Schools in Ocean County. Four years ago the DOE rebuked the district for sending only white children to a private special education school called The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI). In fact, that is still the case: Lakewood is currently sending 53 white children there (total enrollment at SCHI is 130 kids) for an annual cost of $12.2 million. SCHI itself is situated on tax-free land that Lakewood Township handed over for $1 about ten years ago.
79% of Lakewood is white, but the vast majority of Jewish children attend one of the 27 private Jewish day schools in town. So the public school is 90% black and Hispanic. Sending Jewish children with disabilities to a segregated special education school may be merely a logical extension of town culture, although there is that wee problem of state residents (who foot half of Lakewood’s $132 million budget) supporting what seems to be essentially a yeshiva for kids with special needs.
SCHI contends that it is not, in fact, a Jewish school. Could be. However,the New York Times has said the school “is known locally as a school for Orthodox families.” The school, founded by Rabbi Osher Eisemann, has an atmosphere, according to The Jewish Press, that is “decidedly Jewish.” There’s also this report at matzav.com:
This morning, Rav Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, visited the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI). Today’s special visit by the rosh yeshiva provided great chizuk and simcha to the special children at SCHI and to the dedicated staff members. Rav Kotler was given a tour of the SCHI campus by the founder of SCHI, Rabbi Osher Eisemann. Rav Kotler expressed his absolutely amazement with what he saw. He remarked that the smiles on the faces of the students, and the happiness expressed by the parents he has met, conveys all one needs to know about the accomplishments of SCHI.
Meanwhile, the Lakewood School District says that the reason for dearth of minority students at SCHI is that “no minority parents have ever sought a placement there.” Maybe that’s true. However, back in 2002 the Lakewood Board itself studied the inordinate amount of white children placed at SCHI and concluded that the district was out of compliance with federal law that specifies children with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive environment, ideally their home public school.
The conclusion wasn’t unanimous. According to the Asbury Park Press, Board Member “Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, a member of Lakewood’s Vaad, the council of religious and community leaders that represents the interest of the township’s Orthodox Jewish community, called the report a ‘major misrepresentation and a complete rewrite’ of a draft that had been circulated in the committee.”
At any rate, Lakewood Public Schools (budget here) does seem generous in general with its out-of-district placements, sending 176 kids out of its school population of 4,509 kids to private placements and another 139 to other public school special education programs. Maybe that accounts for the discrepancy between its Comparative Cost Per Pupil and its Total Cost Per Pupil. The former is $11,954, according to the DOE data base. The latter is $18,356 per pupil, which takes into account tuition expenditures, transportation, and students sent out-of-district.
The public financial support for SCHI doesn’t end at the NJ border. U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, who represents Lakewood in the U.S. House of Representatives, has specifically requested a $2,000,000 earmark this year to expand SCHI.
Go home rule!