Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

District Considers Expanding Special Education

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

District Considers Expanding Special Education

Article excerpt

DEMAREST -- A new in-district program for special education students in the Northern Valley Regional District has been so successful, officials are considering expansion.

The Access Program, geared to increase student exposure to educational and social opportunities, opened last year at the district's Demarest campus with six students and remains at that number.

All are graduates of the Valley Program, a special-education program for ages 3 to 14 in Harrington Park, Demarest, Norwood and Tenafly. In prior years, program graduates typically were sent to distant, out-of-district special-education programs.

Over the past few years, districts statewide have been bringing their special-ed students to newly created at-home programs. District officials say those programs save money: An out-of- district placement can cost around $90,000 per pupil, not including transportation, but an in-house program costs around $20,000 less. Northern Valley is saving $386,900 just on tuition by being host to the Access Program, officials said.

Besides the savings, district Superintendent Chris Nagy noted that the program reinforces the students' place in the school community.

"The integration of these students into high school life enriches the lives of these students and it also enriches the lives of the other students in the high school to be more aware of those individuals of varying ability levels," he said. "It allows students with special needs to be part of the very fabric of what makes the culture great at Demarest High School."

Paola Yammarino of Closter, whose 15-year-old twins, Jared and Jonathan Yammarino, attend Access, said she was excited when she first heard the program was starting.

"There wasn't anything in our area for them at the time. We thought it was great for them to be educated in our area without having to travel to another school," she said.

Yammarino said she had looked at programs in Fairfield and Rockleigh, but they would have required a 45-minute commute each way. At Demarest, the boys participate in art, gym and wood shop classes with their peers, something they couldn't have done in another special-education program. They also are members of the school track team.

Barbara Battaglia, director of special education in the district, agreed that the Access students have been embraced warmly. …

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