By Kimberly Davis

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — The parents of special education students say their children are falling behind in the pandemic and losing key skills. In one Mercer County school district, students are now losing a vital piece of their education, their teachers and aides.

“They’re so close to them and to really cut that connection off during the school year, it’s not only unusual [but also] it’s really cruel,” Dawn Hiltner with NJEA Communications said.

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Thirty-one special education teachers and aides will be without a job in just days after learning on Tuesday that the Mercer County Special Services School District would be eliminating their jobs. Parents and educators say they were totally blindsided.

“It’s being dealt with in a very heinous matter and they should be ashamed of themselves on every level,” Danny Coniglio, a parent, said.

Coniglio’s 10-year-old daughter attends Mercer Elementary School. She’s on the autism spectrum. She hasn’t been learning virtually because the district’s schools are not open for in-person learning.

“We don’t have a date that we’re going back to school, and the remote learning for special needs children doesn’t work,” Coniglio said. “You can’t have a child sit in front of a computer screen for an hour and try to be taught how to read.”

According to the Mercer County Special Services Education and Therapeutic Association, the district’s enrollment rate is down, which is why it’s deciding to slash jobs.

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“We had 51 students graduate at the end of the year. We did not recoup those 51 students in the beginning of the year,” Leah Pray with the Mercer County Special Services Education and Therapeutic Association said. “They still kept all of the staff, even though we didn’t have those same students.”

These educators work to build a rapport with the neediest students in the county to help them become functional members of society, but all of that success could be damaged, leaving dozens of educators looking for work halfway through the school year, in the middle of a pandemic.

Eyewitness News reached out to the Mercer County Special Services School District for an interview or a comment but have yet to receive a response.


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Kimberly Davis