Montclair Focuses On Inclusion For Special Needs Students

Some 800 students in the school district are classified as "special needs."

By Shelley Emling
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September 12, 2012

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On July 1, Dr. Monty Helfgott took on the newly created position of Inclusion Facilitator for Montclair Public Schools. Since then, he's worked hard to develop ways to support the families of special needs students.

In Montclair, he said that some 800 of the district's 6,000 students have been classified as special needs. Another 90 or so special needs students attend special schools outside the Montclair School District.

He noted that special needs students may be those diagnosed with ADD, autism, or any one of a wide variety of learning disabilities.

Helfgott's mission is two-fold: to help transfer more special needs students out of self-contained programs and into general classroom environments and also to find ways to bring out-of-district students back to Montclair.

"This benefits general education students because they can see these kids as part of their community," Helfgott said. "There is a tremendous need for socialization among these students.

"We need to bring students back because they can gain a lot right here in this district," he said.

(The district is hosting a series of free workshops for parents on this and related topics—see below.)

Traditional special education vs. inclusion has long been a subject of debate both in Montclair and across the country. Some argue that special needs students need to be kept in mainstream classrooms where they can maintain connections with mainstream peers while others argue they should be placed in separate classrooms where they can receive instruction suited to individual needs.

Helfgott has spent the majority of his career as a special education teacher and school psychologist. Before coming to Montclair, he spent the last seven years working for the Bloomfield School District’s Department of Special Services as Learning Disabilities Teacher-Consultant and District Inclusion Facilitator to transition out-of-district students back to their home district.

"My goal is to develop the appropriate supports for classified students," Helfgott said. "Some kids do have difficulties and aren't able to be included in general classrooms. But many of them can be."

Helfgott admitted that his goals won't be achieved in a hurry.

"It's a movement that's going to take some time," he said. "It's always going to be a work in progress.

"Some parents worry about class sizes and scores," he said. "But there's a lot more support for educators now than there used to be."

To find out more, the public is invited to attend the following upcoming events:

FREE PARENT TRAINING SERIES

Dates: Sept. 29, Oct. 6, and Oct. 13 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Montclair Public Library.

Sept 29: Developing an IEP with Measurable Goals

This workshiop provides parents and professionals with strategies to create IEPs with measurable annual goals and objective as well as the required information regarding student progress.

Oct. 6: Positive Behavior Supports

This workshoip discusses the cycle of failure that often results for students with behavioral challenges.

Oct. 13: Inclusion/LRE-All Children Belong

Children are more alike than different and this presentation will provide information on the guiding principles of inclusion with an overview of the IEP process and the legal requirements or Least Restrictive Environment.

In addition, there will be a free inclusion mini-conference for families on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Charles H. Bullock Elementary School

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