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

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 [email protected]

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”