"NJ School Districts Retaliate Against Parents of Students WIth Disabilities"
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KIYC: NJ schools accused of retaliating against parents
(04/16/12) EDISON - School districts across the state are being accused of retaliating against parents who fight for expensive special education services by reporting the parents for child abuse or neglect, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds.
No precise figures are available because child abuse complaints with the state's Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) are confidential. But education advocates say the problem is becoming more widespread as school budgets get tighter.
"In every case I've been involved in, and there have been many, the DYFS case is closed (and) there's been no evidence of abuse or neglect," education advocate Renay Zamloot says. Zamloot says she is convinced the retaliation is intentional and says that in some cases, it's effective. "The parents stop advocating because they don't want to be retaliated against again."
Diana Autin, of the New Jersey Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, agrees the problem is becoming more widespread. She says some districts even threaten parents in advance that unless they back down, the district will report them to DYFS. She says in her experience, districts typically target families they perceive to be powerless, easy to intimidate or unlikely to fight back.
Kane In Your Corner spoke to several families in researching the investigation. Dawn Albert, of Franklin Township, says she filed a formal complaint because school officials there were not giving her daughter with ADHD extra help, as required by state law. Soon after, the Alberts say a DYFS worker showed up at their door to investigate Kathryn's excessive absenteeism, even though Dawn Albert says the school was aware that she had doctor's notes and was even being provided with in-home instruction.
Jersey City schools declined to comment. In a written statement, Franklin Township School Superintendent Edward Seto denied the allegations, saying, "We work diligently to ensure that the best interests of our students are protected."
A DYFS spokesperson confirms caseworkers at her agency are aware of complaints of retaliation by parents and believe they sometimes have merit. However, she says the agency takes every allegation of abuse or neglect seriously and investigates all of them thoroughly.