Feds Cite New York State for Decades of Depriving Special Education Students of Services: Will/Can the State Comply?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1975) for the first time recognized that disabled children required a special educational setting.  The law required that each state establish mechanisms for the identification and placement of children with disabilities in “appropriate” educational settings, the creation of an Individual Education Plan (IEP), with educational goals, and by appropriate the law means appropriate to their disability. The law also requires that parents are involved in every step of the process and have the right to appeal decisions of the school district.

In New York State parents or teachers can refer children for testing, to the Committee on Special Education (CSE), and, within strict time frames evaluate and place the student in the setting appropriate to their disability. The settings range from integrated settings, classes made up of general education and children with IEP’s, with two teachers, a content area teacher and a certified special education teacher to self-contained classrooms with lower class size and a paraprofessional to separate schools with a wide range of services. The IEP is reviewed annually and the CSE, with the involvement of the parent, can alter the placement of the student.

In New York City before mayoral control every district had a District Administrator Special Education, the “DASE,” who acted essentially as the deputy to the superintendent for special education. As the district union rep I worked closely with the DASE. Any questions or complaints from staff were resolved expeditiously. The Department of Education provided each district with dollars for professional development for special education staff, called QUIPP, with a central director of the program. We constructed an “interest inventory,” (better name than “needs assessment”) asking staff to identify topics for workshops as well as topics they would like to teach and provided a modest stipend.

Scores of special education staff signed up; additionally, we combined with another district and held a weekend conference with speakers and workshops.  One of our speakers was Robert Sternberg, a leading scholar on Intelligence and Creativity, who changed the way many teachers approached teaching children diagnosed with disabilities.

Unfortunately under the Bloomberg/Klein regency there were major changes in management structures and special education slid down the ladder. Evaluation and placement ignored rigid time frames, schools created “waiting lists” for placements, principals changed IEPs without any teacher or parent involvement and complaints were ignored. The State Education Department was aloof.

The feds finally began to hassle the state and Commissioner King appeared to be responding, the state created a “specific plan’ and agreed to resolve compliance issues within three years.

By letter dated March 28, 2014 the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) informed the New York State Education Department (NYSED) that it is not in compliance with … the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act …  These provisions relate to the requirement that NYSED’s Office of State Review, which is the second-tier in New York’s two-tier special education due process system, render decisions within 30 days.  The March 28, 2014 letter suggested that NYSED may be able to enter into a compliance agreement with OSEP which, subject to public hearing, would allow continued IDEA Part B funding to New York based on a specific plan to come into compliance with these regulatory requirements as soon as feasible, but no later than three years. 

Five years later and the situation has gotten worse, much worse.

At the March Board of Regents Meeting the Department, complying with orders from the feds issued a scathing report, as well as releasing an equally chilling report  on the death of a special education student in Rochester due to flagrant violations of special education regulations

State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced the findings of a civil investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Trevyan Rowe, a 14-year-old student in the Rochester City School District (RCSD) who went missing on March 8, 2018. The investigation found that systemic failures in school policy and procedures existed at James P.B. Duffy School No. 12, the school Trevyan attended at the time of his death.

Five years after the feds cited the state the situation has deteriorated, the board members were aghast, they asked, “Why weren’t we aware of the situation?”

Of the seventeen areas that the feds monitor the state was out of compliance in fifteen of the areas!!  The chart in the report had fifteen bold red “X”s and a paltry two green checks. The SED PowerPoint, highlighted major compliance issues,

  • Longstanding Non-Compliance
  • Timely Initial Individual Evaluations
  • Timeliness of Due Process Hearing
  • Graduation Rates
  • Dropout Rate
  • Participation in State Assessments

Forty-four school districts in the state were out of compliance including all of the Big Five (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers and New York City).

In New York City parents, advocates and the UFT, the teacher union, has been complaining for years and years. Thousands of complaints have been shipped to the state without any responses. A month ago the UFT testified before the City Council and made its annual plea for upgrading and complying with special education regulations

The NYC Chancellor was “shocked, shocked”that the city was out of compliance.

Sadly, the deprivation of services to thousands upon thousands of disabled students only warranted a few lines in the press and the Specialized High Schools Admittance Test untold thousands of lines and almost daily coverage.

Chancellor Carranza has said the right things; however. when a similar situation was unearthed in Houston, his former employment, he was equally aghast, and little changed in his year and a half at the helm,

But multiple observers also said that while Carranza said many of the right things, it’s less clear to what extent his efforts changed the reality in schools. A recent audit shows that the district still kept students from being evaluated for special education services after Carranza initiated reforms.

 Carranza took “good first steps,” [an advocate] added. “Do I think special education has largely changed during his first year and a half in the district? No.”

 At the March 19th UFT Delegate Assembly, over 1,000 elected teacher delegates, union president Mulgrew, in frustration, described the Department of Education as a number of castles, I would add, with moats, defending their fiefdoms.

Whether the chancellor can impose his suzerainty will determine his success, or lack thereof.



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