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NYC Special Education Recovery Services program to scale back this fall

In response to the turmoil of the pandemic, New York City officials last year required all schools to provide special education services outside normal hours to families who wish to.

But that won’t be the case this school year, educators said. Instead, the education department vows to determine any additional instruction or therapy that children may need “on an individual basis.” The decision rests with the team that sets up the student’s individualized education program, also known as the IEP.

Very small group instruction or “related services,” such as physical therapy or occupational therapy, may be offered after school, on Saturdays, during classes, or through vouchers for students determined by the City to have special needs. Yes, officials said. The city is also expanding new programs for students with significant sensory impairments, which are popular with some parents. We plan to launch from 10 to 70 sites this fall.

The education sector has set aside $100 million for these additional services, down from about $200 million last year, according to city officials. Last year’s recovery program was delayed several months after the school year began. Schools struggled to attract staff to work after hours, and the majority of students did not attend, although authorities have yet to make a final tally. received great reviews.

There are many unanswered questions about how this year’s program will operate. This includes which students are eligible, when parents will be notified of how to access additional services, who is responsible for providing the services and when they will start. City officials have not said whether they will offer yellow bus services for programs offered outside of regular school days.

“For the outward part of the world, it’s really the last minute,” said Maggie Moroff, a special education policy expert at the nonprofit Advocates for Children. “If this hasn’t been communicated to schools yet, it’s hard to imagine how it will work.”

Students with disabilities have a legal right to “compensatory services” when the school does not provide all of the professional instruction and treatment included in the IEP. Also, a significant proportion of students with disabilities were unable to access special education instruction or treatment that was difficult or impossible to provide during distance learning or due to staff shortages.

However, successfully advocating for compensation services can take time and require legal assistance. If the district does not agree to provide these additional services, families can go through an administrative legal process to compel the city to provide them, a process that is complex and often takes months. We are facing extreme backlog across the board. Children’s advocates have filed a lawsuit to force the city to create a more streamlined process, but the lawsuit has so far been unsuccessful.

The City’s commitment to assess whether students with disabilities need these additional compensatory services may indicate that they are easy to obtain without a tedious process, but the City may It’s unclear how generous they will be when recommending support.

Education sector spokesperson Nicole Brownstein said, “This administration will fix pandemic-related learning losses for the most vulnerable students and expand access to essential programs that meet their unique individual needs. We are committed to doing so,” she wrote in an email. She added that additional services will be available on Saturday at multiple sites in all wards.

Even as the city directs schools to provide more compensatory services, Moroff notes that many students don’t have an IEP meeting scheduled until the spring, noting how quickly students can get additional coverage. I am questioning whether I will be able to get help.

“If a student’s last IEP took place last April, they won’t have regular IEP meetings scheduled until next April,” she said. “Certainly, families can ask, but it shifts the burden onto them.”

Bronx mother Damaris Rodriguez wants to know if and when her 12-year-old son Mariek, who is on the autism spectrum, is eligible for services.

Mariek missed some speech and occupational therapy sessions during the pandemic due to conflicts with remote instruction. She said the special services help him self-regulate when he’s frustrated, improve his reading comprehension, and even learn how to share his feelings with his peers and teachers.

Damaris Rodriguez and son Mariek.

Courtesy of Damaris Rodriguez

“Mariek was facing a range of challenges emotionally in terms of expressing himself,” Rogriguez said.

But she’s also wary of the ministry’s special education recovery program. Last year she took Mariek out of a recovery program after a month because she hadn’t received the treatment she believed she needed, and finding transportation without the yellow bus was a challenge.

With special activities, such as basketball, that could compete with Saturday’s special education programs, Rodroguez said the city was clear to parents about additional services to expect this term and when they would be available. I am dissatisfied with not having one.

“Do I have to tell my son that he can’t play basketball because it’s Saturday?” Rodriguez wondered. “When are you going to tell your parents?”

Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York covering public schools in New York City. Please contact Alex at azimmerman@chalkbeat.org.

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