New York

NYC schools skirting special education laws, investigation finds

The city has failed to provide mandated services to special education students meant to deal with disruptive behavior in the classroom, a state investigation found. 

The New York State Education Department began looking into the issue in April, after Advocates for Children of New York and the parents of 20 students filed a complaint describing ways that students with disabilities weren’t be properly supported in their schools. One five-year-old student was separated from his classroom just three days into the school year and placed on a half-day schedule despite protests from his parents, according to the complaint

Whenever students have a disability that impedes learning for themselves or others, they are supposed to be put through a comprehensive behavioral test that includes observation and consultation with teachers and other service providers. If needed, a plan must be created to help address the disability before it escalates to a serious incident or confrontation. 

But in a report released this week, the state found that city schools were “systemically violating the law” by not properly administering this series of early intervention steps. It substantiated all or part of all three allegations submitted as part of the complaint.

“Schools are not following required procedures to identify causes of the challenging behavior or provide appropriate supports to prevent the behavior from occurring,” said Rebecca Shore, director of litigation at AFC-NY. 

Shore said the investigation’s findings were especially acute given recent students suspension statistics, which showed special education students took up a larger share of total suspensions last year. 

“Suspending students with disabilities results in missed class time and does nothing to address whatever is triggering the misconduct,” Shore said. 

As a result of the findings, the Department of Education now must faces a series of deadlines to notify schools about how to properly administer behavioral assessments and devise intervention plans for students with disabilities. It has until mid-January to notify schools and until the end of the year to prove that schools are in compliance with state regulations.

Update: In a statement, a DOE spokeswoman pointed out that student suspensions were down 19 percent last year.

“The DOE supports positive behavior by providing targeted supports to those schools that need it most as well as professional development and trainings,” said the spokeswoman, Erin Hughes.  

AFC-NY’s press release, and a copy of the investigation’s findings are below: 

Advocates for Children of New York Wins Decision
Enforcing Rights of Students with Disabilities

NEW YORK CITY, November 7, 2013 – The New York State Education Department (NYSED) issued a ruling this week on a complaint filed by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) earlier this year, charging the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) with systemically violating the law by failing to provide crucial behavioral supports for students with disabilities. The NYSED decision affirms AFC’s claim that the NYC DOE must address students’ behavior using Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) as mandated by law. 

“Recent statistics show that students with disabilities are suspended at a higher rate than other students,” stated Rebecca Shore, Director of Litigation at Advocates for Children of New York. “Schools are not following required procedures to identify causes of the challenging behavior or provide appropriate supports to prevent the behavior from occurring. Suspending students with disabilities results in missed class time and does nothing to address whatever is triggering the misconduct.” 

Over the years, AFC has worked with thousands of families of students with disabilities and rarely seen appropriate behavior support plans from the DOE.

“We hope this decision will motivate the DOE to finally do the right thing for NYC students,” says Kim Sweet, Executive Director at AFC. “FBAs and BIPs were designed specifically to help students improve their behavior and increase positive experiences in school.”

NYSED found systemic noncompliance with the state regulations on mandated behavior support plans.  In addition, NYSED found that the forms that the DOE uses do not comply with state requirements. Their investigation also concluded that the DOE does not provide sufficient support and guidance for its schools on positive behavior plans (FBAs and BIPs). 

NYSED has ordered the NYC DOE to immediately remedy the system-wide violations and start providing students with disabilities the support they are legally entitled to. 

To read the New York State Education Department’s decision, please click here. For a complete list of the demands and to read the complaint filed by AFC, click here

NYSED Special Education Investigation by GothamSchools.org

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede