Education A National Roundup

Obituary: Fred G. Burke, Jeanne M. Simons

March 22, 2005 1 min read

Fred G. Burke, who as New Jersey’s commissioner of education was a central figure in a nationally watched school finance case, died on March 11 in Newton, N.J. He was 79 and had suffered a pulmonary embolism.


Mr. Burke was appointed to his position in 1974 by then- Gov. Brendan T. Byrne and served until 1982. The lawsuit, known as Abbott v. Burke, was filed in 1981 by students in poor school districts. Even though Mr. Burke was named as a target of the suit, he was sympathetic to the plight of poor school districts and complained during his tenure that the gap between the state’s richest and poorest districts had grown.

The ongoing litigation, which has dramatically increased funding in New Jersey’s poorest districts, has been described as “the poster child for court-run schools” by critics.

Mr. Burke, a Democrat, also pushed for accountability by students, teachers, and administrators and helped persuade the state legislature in 1975 to enact a law requiring testing for students and annual evaluations for tenured teachers.

He had served earlier as the commissioner of education in Rhode Island, from 1971 to 1972.

Jeanne M. Simons, who argued that early, intensive intervention could benefit children with autism and developed a successful program to reach such students, died on March 8 in Columbia, Md. She was 95 and had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Ms. Simons, a psychiatric social worker, began working with autistic children at Children’s House, a treatment center in Washington for emotionally disturbed children, in the early 1950s. At that time, many educators believed that such children could not be helped and should be institutionalized.

In 1955, Ms. Simons opened Linwood Children’s Center in an old stone mansion in Ellicott City, Md., offering one of the first education and therapy programs for autistic youngsters. The school is now known as Linwood Center.

She explained her approach in a 1985 book written with Sabine Oishi, The Hidden Child: The Linwood Method for Reaching the Autistic Child. “Basic to this model is the belief in the worth of the individual in all of his manifestations,” they wrote, “and respect for the healthy potential that exists in even the most handicapped human being.”