In response to the pandemic disruptions, New York City officials last year required every school to provide after-hours special education services to any family who wanted it.
But that won’t be the case this coming school year, education officials said. Instead, the Department of Education agrees to determine what additional instruction or therapy children might need on an “individual basis” – decisions that will be left to the teams who set the children’s individualized education programs. students, also known as IEPs.
Additional small group instruction or “related services” such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, can be provided after school, on Saturdays, during the school day, or through a voucher for students whose city determines they need additional help, officials said. The city is also developing a new program for students with significant sensory issues, which has been popular with some parents. It will launch on 70 sites this fall, up from 10 previously.
The Department of Education is setting aside $100 million for these additional services, up from about $200 million last year, according to city officials. Last year’s recovery program was delayed several months after the start of the school year. Schools have struggled to attract staff to work overtime and the vast majority of students have not participated, although officials have yet to provide a final tally. The program has received mixed reviews from parents and educators.
Many questions remain unanswered about how this year’s program will work, including which students will be eligible, when parents will be notified how they can access additional services, who will be responsible for providing them, and even when they will begin. City officials did not say whether they would provide yellow bus service for programs that will be conducted outside of the regular school day, a major barrier to attendance last year.
“For the outward-facing part of the world, it’s at the very last minute,” said Maggie Moroff, special education policy expert at the nonprofit Advocates for Children. “It’s hard for me to imagine, if this hasn’t been communicated to the schools yet, how successful this is going to be.”
Students with disabilities have a legal right to “compensatory services” if their school does not provide all of the specialized instruction or therapies included in their IEP. And a significant portion of students with disabilities have not been able to benefit from special education or therapies that were difficult or impossible to provide during remote learning or when staff were overstretched.
But successfully defending compensatory services can take time and require legal help. If the district does not agree to provide these additional services, families can go through administrative court proceedings to compel the city to provide them, although this process is complex and has faced extreme backlogs that often span several months. Advocates for Children has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the city to create a more streamlined process, though that lawsuit has so far been unsuccessful.
The city’s promise to assess whether students with disabilities need these additional compensatory services may indicate that they will be easier to obtain without going through this cumbersome process, although it is unclear how much the city will generous in recommending additional support.
“This administration is committed to correcting any pandemic-related learning loss for our most vulnerable students and to expanding access to essential programs that meet unique and individual needs,” wrote Nicole Brownstein, gatekeeper. -word from the Education Department, in an email. She added that additional services will be available on Saturdays at several sites in each borough.
Even as the city asks schools to provide more compensatory services, Moroff noted that many students aren’t scheduled to have an IEP meeting until the spring, raising questions about how quickly students will get access to additional help. .
“If a student’s last IEP was last April, they are not regularly scheduled for an IEP meeting until next April,” she said. “Of course a family could ask, but that shifts the burden onto the family.”
Bronx mother Damaris Rodriguez said she is eager to find out if her 12-year-old son Maliek, who is on the autism spectrum, might be eligible for services and when they might be provided.
Maliek missed some of his speech and occupational therapy sessions during the pandemic because they conflicted with distance learning. She said additional services could help him self-regulate when he feels anxious, improve his reading comprehension skills and even learn to share his feelings with peers and teachers.
“Maliek faced many different emotional challenges in expressing himself,” Rogriguez said, “whereas before the pandemic he was able to speak or open up.”
But she’s also suspicious of the department’s special education recovery programs. Last year, she removed Maliek from the recovery program after a month because he was not receiving the therapies she believed he needed. Figuring out transportation without yellow bus service was a challenge.
Rodroguez said she’s frustrated the city hasn’t communicated more clearly to parents what additional services to expect this school year and when they will be provided, as it implements additional activities like basketball that may conflict with Saturday special education programs.
“Am I going to have to tell my son that he can’t play basketball because it falls on Saturday? Rodriguez wonders. “When are you going to inform the parents?”
Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering New York’s public schools. Contact Alex at [email protected].