The 2021-22 school year will be unprecedented at the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey, which for the first time will be serving students with disabilities beyond age 21 at its Piscataway, Monroe and Sayreville campuses.
Because of the pandemic and concerns of learning loss, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation in June to extend the length of educational and transitional services for an estimated 8,700 students with disabilities statewide slated to age out of the academic system at the age of 21. The extended length of service is approximately one year, the law states.
“We look forward to welcoming back post-21 students, many of whom lost post-graduation transitional options because of the pandemic,” ESCNJ Schools Superintendent Mark Finkelstein said in a prepared statement. “We have ample resources and services for these students; we fully expect the additional enrollment this fall to be seamless. Moreover, we are confident they will benefit enormously from another year of instruction and warmly welcome their return.”
This bill provides the temporary extension of special education and related services to students with disabilities who exceed, or will exceed, the current age of eligibility in the 2020-21, 2021-22, or 2022-23 school year.
School districts recommend students with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) for placement within ESCNJ’s specialized services if deemed necessary. Following the enactment of the law in June, school districts approved the additional year for a total of 17 students at ESCNJ, to date, according to the statement.
Finkelstein said there is no cost to local taxpayers, as the additional year of schooling is funded under the federal CARES Act, according to the statement.
ESCNJ also offers a separate post-21 program called Adult Community Services, supported by Medicaid and the state Division of Developmental Disabilities.
“Because the governor signed the law on June 16, at the end of the previous school year, we anticipate some parents may be unaware of the extension,” the superintendent said in the statement. “We are still accepting enrollment for the next school year, so it is critical for parents to meet with the representatives of the special services department of their local school districts, who can make the recommendation for an additional year of ESCNJ services.”
For students at age 22, ESCNJ will focus the curriculum on the further development of transitional skills and independent living, as well as to help them secure long-term, competitive employment, according to the statement. The ESCNJ program includes community-based instruction, such as job shadowing, use of public transportation, shopping, food preparation, household maintenance and social skill building.
The legislation (S. 3434) permitting the additional year of school received bi-partisan support with unanimous state legislative approval. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a main sponsor of the measure, called the extension “a crucial lifeline to students on the brink of aging out who lost educational services to the pandemic at a critical time for them and their families,” according to the statement.