NJ parents claim Paterson schools are neglecting students with special needs

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PATERSON, N.J. — Parents in Paterson claim their kids are not getting the support they are owed under New Jersey State law.

Sarah Bermudez has a 9-year-old son, Trevor, who is homebound due to a rare disorder called CHARGE. He cannot speak, he can barely hear and he can't go to school because his body has no immune defense system. He has never been vaccinated and is home-schooled by the district. But for the past couple years, his therapists and instructors have stopped showing up.

"I’m exhausted. Since I transferred to this district in 2012, every year, I have to fight with them. Services don’t get started unless I call and start hunting them. Where are these providers?” said Bermudez. She says her son’s individual education plan, or IEP, mandates occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy and 10 hours of at-home instruction.

“The therapists will come out and say, listen, I can’t come to your house we have not been getting pay,” she explained the district hires outside consultants to come to her home to do the work.

“I’m just not going to come until they start paying again,” she recalled.

She says the district still has not made up for the lost instruction time. She says she filed a lawsuit in February of this year, but later discovered her attorney was directly related to the Paterson Board of Education President. She felt it was a conflict of interest and they parted ways. She has also filed complaints against the district.

“Even if you file a complaint, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get what you need,” she added. She’s even contacted the Commissioner for the State Department of Education.

“I’ve written letters, I’ve filed complaints and I’m still not getting the services. They’re still brushing me off."

She’s not alone.

Raquel Soto is also suing the district. She says her daughter was bullied throughout high school and despite complaints, the district declined to recognize or even investigate some of her complaints.

"This district is not doing what they are supposed to do for these children with special needs. We are not the only parents that are out there seeking help. There are other parents that are afraid to come out,” she said.

She said her daughter just graduated, but she is still pursing a lawsuit because her son is still in the school system. Both have autism. She said her son wandered away from school at age five and almost walked onto the highway, but it took two years to get the school to provide a personal aide.

"We call and we call and we call. We have court orders and we have all this stuff. And they are not even listening to a court order.”

PIX11 heard from several more moms with similar complaints. Another mom said she’s been struggling for weeks to get a meeting with the district deputy superintendent, because the district violated her son’s education plan.

One mom who spoke on the record but did not wish to show her face, says her son has been to three schools in two years and the district is pushing to transfer him again rather than keep him in the classroom with a personal aide.

“They don’t want to deal with the behaviors,” she said. “They resist because of the costs.”

Paterson’s Board of Education was closed for Election Day today. PIX11 was unable to reach a spokesperson for the district.

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