#b#Special Needs Case Deserves Scrutiny#/b#

U.S. 1’s March 26 edition told the community the story of an “inconvenient child.” It is a story that should alarm every member of the Princeton community because of what appears to be the outrageous behavior of adult personnel at one of our community elementary schools and directed at a child with special needs. The child’s parents described the incident in an article in Aeon, which I urge everyone to read (http://aeon.co/magazine/living-together/how-apraxia-got-my-son-suspended-from-school/).

If you ever thought about what it might be like to be caught in a version of Franz Kafka’s Trial, then you only need to read the story of the Graziano family and their treatment at Community Park school. The essence of the story is that a first-grade child with special needs was treated as a pariah by school staff. They treated his self-stimulating behavior as sexual deviancy, ultimately suspending him for it, despite evidence and testimony from the child’s therapist, psychiatrist, and other health professionals that he suffered from a developmental coordination disorder ultimately diagnosed as apraxia and from anxiety related to his difficulties.

Repeatedly accusing the child of willfully bad behavior simply made his problem worse. Suspending the 6 year old from school made it much worse. The family ultimately had to go to court to get relief. After hearing testimony from the school system and the family, the judge’s published opinion (http://njlaw.rutgers.edu/collections/oal/html/initial/eds4813-13_1.html) labeled the school’s action as having risen to the level of “irreparable harm” to the child, and chastised the system for not having created an educational plan for the child mandated by state and federal law.

The judge took the extraordinary step of ordering the district administration to place the child in a different Princeton school where he is now prospering.

Mistreatment of a single child in a school community is an affront to every citizen who expects its schools to be bastions of professionalism and paragons of caring for every child, especially those with special needs. It also raises concern that the system that failed the Graziano child can be failing other vulnerable children at this very moment.

The Princeton school system should immediately initiate a professional and impartial investigation of the event and, if need be, hold people accountable. I have no doubt that the school system is run by people, and supervised by a school board, that wants to educate, not harm. However, when things go dreadfully wrong as they did in this case, the system has to analyze itself. It needs to investigate what went wrong, who was responsible, and how to make certain it will never happen again. Repeated attempts by the Grazianos to initiate such an investigation have fallen on deaf ears at the district level. It is time for the community to demand action.

What happened at Community Park School to allow this set of horrific events to unfold? Will it happen — or is it happening — to another child who has been entrusted to our schools for care? We will never know unless the school system undertakes a true investigation so every parent knows that this will never happen again.

Joel Cooper

Prospect Avenue, Princeton

Editor’s note: The writer, a psychology professor at Princeton University, served on the Princeton Regional Board of Education in 1981-’82 and from 1984 to 1992 and was president of the board from 1990 to 1992.

I applaud U.S. 1’s decision to run the article on the “inconvenient child” on your front page. I hope that sharing this story will highlight the critical need for expanding disability awareness for all educators and shift the response of our school system from censure to targeted support.

Some of the questions this situation highlights for all of our citizens include: Do we want to have educators who view a child as “trouble” as opposed to the child being “in trouble” due to a neurobiological condition or specific skill set problems?

Clearly, the behavior cited in the article required a full Child Study Team evaluation, a legal protection available to every public school child. Why is the first-response default to problems like the one described punishment rather than compassion? What is this “blame first” coda doing to the mental health of all our children? Why is one grammar school able to heal a child, while another school in the same town is driven to censure?

In this case, the parents’ high level of education and economic resources enabled them to fight for justice, and yet it still took dogged determination and huge amounts of time to achieve exoneration and appropriate intervention. It makes one wonder, is our school system protecting the rights of poor and uneducated parents and their children? Are children of the less educated or the poor being punished or under-served in higher numbers?

To ensure fair treatment of all of our children, we need a school system that recognizes the behavioral signs of multiple disabilities and engages quickly in early intervention, with compassionate and caring support for the student and his family. We should not and cannot have educators who are entrusted with the well-being of our children resorting to censure, accusation, and expulsion as first responses to aberrant classroom behaviors.

Jane Milrod

Founding Director, CHADD Princeton-Mercer County

#b#Action Needed On Alzheimer’s#/b#

Women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s disease epidemic.

The recently released Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures reveals that almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women and that more than 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women. A woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared with nearly 1 in 11 for a man.

While breast cancer is a very real and important concern for women and it deserves continued attention and investment of resources, the Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures reveals that women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the rest of their lives than they are to develop breast cancer. In New Jersey, it is estimated that by 2025 the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease will increase by 24 percent from 2014.

The statistics are startling and frightening, and the impact on our families is real. Alzheimer’s disease changes families forever as fading memories impact everyday relationships. The emotional impact is overwhelming, and the cost of care is devastating.

The Alzheimer’s Association is launching a national initiative this spring to highlight the power of women in the fight against this disease. I ask your readers to join me in advocating for an end to Alzheimer’s disease. We can have a tremendous impact when we work together. Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease at www.alz.org/nj or contact us at njadvocacy@alz.org. Thank you.

Kathleen Townshend Dugan

Board Chair

Alzheimer’s Association, Greater New Jersey Chapter

#b#For Congress#/b#

I am writing you today not just to ask for your support of my candidacy for Congress, but also to talk to you about what I believe in as a Democrat, an elected official, and most importantly a human being. I believe in America. More specifically I believe in the America that gave me the opportunity to get a quality education, to start a career and a family when I came to this country with only a few dollars in my pocket.

Throughout my life, I’ve faced impossible odds, first as an immigrant, then as a community organizer just starting out in Franklin Township where we turned a Republican council Democratic. Whenever I’ve been told no, I’ve always said, “if what we are doing is good for the community, then we will find a way.” I have taken this approach as an Assemblyman and will take this approach to Congress.

I am not the only one who has faced down impossible odds, however. Over the past few years, working and middle class families have had to endure one of the most difficult recessions in our country’s history. In my capacity as deputy speaker of the General Assembly, I’ve spoken to folks all over the state. They are frustrated because the recovery has yet to reach their doorsteps. This is compounded by the fact that we have had a Republican-led Congress that has been systematically dismantling programs that are meant to help hardworking Americans.

As an engineer, I am trained to look at the facts and the facts are we need to fight for progressive values, not because of blind partisanship, but because every single American deserves a level playing field. We can’t continue the barbaric practice of cutting programs like food assistance and unemployment insurance. We have to fight back.

Ultimately, this isn’t about me or the other candidates in this race, but rather about our broader calling to advocate for economic empowerment and to engage in genuine problem solving. From the time I arrived on America’s shores as an aspiring graduate student to my career as an engineer and elected official, I have faced down difficult odds. I humbly ask you now to stand with me to make sure that the hardworking people of this district have a representative in Congress who won’t take no for an answer.

I would be honored to represent you in Congress.

Upendra J. Chivukula


Trained as an electrical engineer, Chivukula worked in private industry until he was elected to the state assembly in 2001, making him the first Indian American ever elected to the position. He is running for the 12th Congressional District seat being vacated by Democrat Rush Holt. Other candidates for Holt’s seat include State Senator Linda Greenstein and State Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. Chivukula previously ran in the 7th district and lost to incumbent Republican Leonard Lance in the 2012 election.

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