City’s new special-education reforms hitting speed bumps
A number of schools are refusing to adjust their services to meet the needs of incoming special-education students as required under an ambitious new citywide initiative, critics claimed yesterday.
At least 40 parents have approached the nonprofit Advocates for Children after being told that their kids wouldn’t get the small classes or extra services that were promised in official education plans.
With less than a week to go before school starts, East Harlem mom Khadira Savage said she’s still battling with school officials because her 4-year-old son was assigned to a classroom at PS 30 with 25 students, even though his education plan mandates a smaller setting with no more than 12 special-ed kids.
“It’s scary for me as a parent to think he may not have a placement next week and that the placement that they do offer him may not be the best for him, because it’s going to be what’s best for the Department of Education,” said Savage, who has filed for an independent hearing on behalf of her son, Amir Oree.
“I was confused as to why they would place me in a school that didn’t have the class he needed.”
The bumps in the road come amid a new initiative that requires all 1,700 city public schools to serve special-education students who newly enroll this year.
In the past, students with special needs were often bused to certain schools that specialized in providing smaller settings or extra supports — but this often resulted in unintended segregation.
City-education officials have pointed to the abysmal academic records of students in those segregated settings as the main motivation for the reforms.
They also cited research about the benefits of allowing special-ed kids to learn alongside their general-education peers — something the reforms are encouraging.
“No kid is the same in what they need, and what we had been doing in the past is just plopping them in a class and that’s it. That’s not OK, because it’s not working,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief academic officer for the schools system.
“What you need to do is look more closely. Whatever it is that the kid needs, that’s what we’re trying to get to them.”
Polakow-Suransky said the city expects to spend an additional $30 million this year to better cater to students with disabilities in kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades.
The new policy will expand to more students each year.
Department of Education officials said that the city’s 311 hot line for special-ed issues had fielded 365 calls since Aug. 1 — but that fewer than two dozen cases required central-administration input.
They knew of only one unresolved complaint that had reached the agency — although advocates said there are still plenty of families without school placements.
“I’m sure there are going to be other cases, but so far the flow has been relatively light, and we have a really strong system in place to try to work through these cases,” said Polakow-Suransky.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s office yesterday released the first in a series of reports that seek to explain and examine how the city implements the new policy.
The first report looked at how prepared the central bureaucracy is to support the initiative.
“We’re keeping a very close eye on where the rubber meets the road,” said de Blasio. “For these reforms to work — and I truly believe they can — the DOE needs to focus on some perennial trouble spots, like communicating with parents and making sure principals have the resources to get the job done.”