SOMSD Special Services Newsletter

January 2021

Happy New Year from the DOSS

Hello SOMSD Families!

I would like to take a moment to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year! With the beginning of the new year, we are all looking to turn the page on the 2020 book and embrace all that 2021 has in store. In the 8 months since I arrived in SOMSD, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time virtually observing in classrooms, meeting families (virtually), and working with the great staff here. I am very much looking forward to continuing our work and continuing to move the department forward. In each of my virtual encounters, I have observed children working diligently, teachers and staff working at max capacity, and have had great collaborative conversations with family. It is part of my New Years goal to continue with all of the good work, and build on each of those encounters!

From the moment staff returned on January 4th, we have been busy continuing our work getting prepared for our hybrid reopening. Within this newsletter, there are many important updates regarding this reopening, so I urge you to please read through them and reach out to your child's case manager with any questions. We are excited for the opportunity to safely return back to school!

As always, thank you for your collaboration and partnership!

Dr. Alegria

Department of Special Services

Dr. Melody Alegria, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services

Leroy Johnson, III, PreK Program Supervisor

Karen Thomany, Supervisor of Special Education K-5

Susan Ellis, Supervisor of Special Education Self-Contained K-8 Programs & 6-8

Gerri Colon, Supervisor of Special Education 9-12

Return to School

How to prepare for a return to school

The SOMSD is getting ready to welcome back our learners to our schools. This is an exciting time but one that be anxiety producing. As we prepare for the return to in person learning ther may be many things we forget about Please click on this link from the CDC to find out some helpful ideas on how to prepare for a smooth transition back to in person learning.

Do you need a chromebook?

If you are returning to school in the hybrid model and need a Chromebook, please email: to request to borrow one from the district. You will receive a message as to the date and time you can pick it up.

Does your child receive Transportation as part of their IEP?

If your child is transported to school by bus and will be returning to school in person, you will be contacted by the transportation department with a pick up and drop off time.

Therapy & Evidence Based Reading Update

With the change to hybrid learning, the therapists and reading teachers will need time to reconfigure their schedules. Please expect that there will be no therapy or pull out reading services from January 13-January 20 in order to give them time to work with teachers and parents to rearrange their schedule. They have been asked to confer with parents about preference of in person or virtual therapy. We will do our best to take all families preferences into consideration but please be mindful that we have many student's to schedule and many factors to work around. Thank you for your patience as the therapists take the time to attend to this important work.

Resource for Families- Explaining the New Normal

Facial Covering Exceptions

Face coverings are required for students, unless it will inhibit the individual’s health. Face coverings are always required for staff, unless it will inhibit the individual’s health. Short face covering breaks for students may be incorporated into the schedule as feasible, but only when social distancing can be maintained. Recommended time for face covering breaks is no more than five minutes indoors, ideally with windows open, and no more than ten minutes outdoors. Face coverings must cover the nose and mouth.

Exceptions to requirements for face coverings shall be as follows:

1) Doing so would inhibit the individual’s health*;

2) The individual is in extreme heat outdoors;

3) The individual is in water;

4) The individual is under two years old;

5) The documented medical condition or disability* precludes the use of face covering.

*If an individual cannot wear a facial covering because it may inhibit the individual's health, two things are required:

1) A note from the individual's health care provider submitted to the school nurse;


2) Approval from the District Physician. The individual may learn virtually until district physician approval.

If an individual refuses to wear a face covering for a non-medical reason, that individual may not enter the building. A student who refuses to wear a face covering for a non-medical reason may learn virtually.

Frontline Collaboration Portal


During virtual IEP meetings, you will be asked to sign the participation page of the IEP electronically via the Collaboration Portal. The Collaboration Portal is a message delivery system we are that allows us to share documents related to your child’s IEP. It is a service provided by Frontline Education, which is our IEP platform (IEP Direct). You will receive an email indicating that a document is available for your review/signature.

The access code for this document is the first three letters of the student's last name (upper case) plus his/her date of birth in mmddyyyy format. Example: XYZ04032005. Note: if a student has fewer than three letters in his/her last name, the full last name is included with date of birth.

Your case manager will be available to support as needed.

Thank you,

Dates to Remember

January 13- Asynchronous Learning for all SOMSD students

January 18- Schools Closed-MLK day

January 19- First Day in Person for Grades PK - 2, 6 and 9 - 1st cohorts

January 25- Start of In Person learning for all other grades

2020-2021 SOMSD School Calendar

Preschool Registration Alert

Greetings Families,

The time is near! We are pleased to announce that the District has been working diligently to finalize preschool registration dates for the 2021-2022 school year. Registration details such as deadlines and eligibility requirements for the preschool lottery, which determines placement, will be posted on our District's website in the next few weeks. Please be on the lookout!

This is an exciting time as each year brings new opportunities for increased capacity as we expand our program through the establishment of additional partnerships with local private preschool provider sites. We look forward to your interest and participation.

Thank you!

Educational Resources


Learning Ally, which is an online audio books program. Learning Ally provides either audio books or audio books with highlighted text for many textbooks and other books. Any student that falls into one of the following categories can use this program:

  • Students with print disabilities (learning disabilities)

  • Students with Physical Disabilities

  • Students with Visual Impairments

  • Struggling readers who are receiving intervention in the school setting


Lexia, is an online reading supplemental program to support struggling readers.

If you would access to Learning Ally and Lexia, please contact your special education teacher(s).

Staff Shout Outs!

December Shout outs!

Mr. Michael Wojcio

Ms. Shannon Colonna

Ms. Amy Pitucco

Is there a special education teacher or special services staff member who you would like to recognize? If so, please complete this form so they can be recognized!

Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG)


SEPAC Meeting
Wednesday, January 20 7:15 – 8:45pm
Google Meet:

For the start of 2021, SEPAC’s focus topic is New Year, New Goals. It’s time to take a closer look at your child’s IEP and see what goals need some updating. Are they S.M.A.R.T. = Specific? Measurable? Achievable? Relevant? Time-Bound? Join us and find out! All are welcome!


The Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, or SEPAC, is an advocacy group focused on policies, programs, and practices within the South Orange/Maplewood School District. Families and caregivers of student(s) with learning needs or students eligible for or receiving services under an IEP or 504 plan are encouraged to attend SEPAC Meetings. SEPAC provides parents with tools and information to work collaboratively with the school district and to be more effective advocates for their children with special educational needs.

Find us at Contact us at

SEPAC BOARD, 2020-2021

Michele Richman, Vice President of Policy

Malia Herman, Vice President of Community Outreach

Caryn Gehrke and Nicole Josey, Vice Presidents of Family Support

Nicole Stewart and Lindsey Stone, Vice Presidents of Programming

Beth Cosentino, Communications Officer and Administrator

Ann Leeb, Ex Officio