Advocates for Children

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New York

Report: District-charter special ed gap not from "counseling out"

New York

Advocates say city is agreeing to pay special ed costs less often

Advocates and lawyers representing students with disabilities say the city has only intensified its recent battle against parents who want their children's private school tuition reimbursed. The adversarial showdown, which stems in large part from the city's efforts to cut special education costs, means that children with special needs are taking longer to receive services that their parents believe they need. "They're basically just fighting everything a lot more," said Kim Madden, director of legal services at Advocates for Children of New York, about the city's lawyers. AFC represents low-income families in many cases against the Department of Education. As the new school year is set to begin, Madden said she expects the help line that her organization runs to start ringing off the hook. The complaints often come from parents who want schools to provide the services mandated by their child’s special education plan, such as occupational and speech therapy. Other requests are for transportation for medically fragile students and extra tutoring for learning disabilities. But it’s the expensive reimbursement requests to cover private school tuition, which account for many of the cases, that have the city on the defensive. The city is projected to spend $256 million in 2014, or about 9 percent more than this year, on private school tuition for students whose parents successfully petition for reimbursements. All together, the city's bill for nonpublic school payments, excluding charter school spending, is on pace to increase 35 percent since 2010.
New York

Lawsuit demands DOE increase language services for parents

Parents attended a rally at Tweed Hall, where they demanded the DOE provide more translation and interpretation services to those whose children require special education. Advocates filed a federal complaint today against the city Department of Education that they said represents years of troubling reports from parents who don't speak English. Hundreds of those parents have come to the advocacy groups with concerns that the department doesn't provide sufficient language services for navigating special education. And with extensive special education reforms in progress, the need for language services is more pressing than ever, said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children. AFC, which represents low-income students and students with disabilities, joined with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest to file the complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights on behalf of 19 city families. The complaint charges the city with violating federal, state, and city laws by failing to provide translation services for the parents of children with special needs. The complaint profiles one of the parents in detail. Nyuk Siem Looi, who speaks only Cantonese, has two sons who are autistic and cannot speak. According to the complaint, Looi has been told to bring her own interpreter to meetings and pressured to sign documents about her sons' educational programs that she could not understand. Parents named in the complaint were joined by dozens of others at a rally on the steps of City Hall today after the complaint was filed, many holding umbrellas to relieve themselves from more than 90-degree heat.
New York

Group honors student who went from 'horror film' to high school

Eric Degiaimo at his desk at the Smith School. For 18 months, Eric Degiaimo could barely leave his apartment, paralyzed by fear of the outside world. Today, he’s a junior in high school who just celebrated his 19th birthday with friends in Times Square and harbors goals of becoming a musical engineer. He’s also the recipient of a city advocacy groups’s annual award for students who have overcome great obstacles to attend schools that are right for them. Eric’s path to isolation and back took him through rough terrain. By the time he was 15, he had incurred a lifetime of trauma while being raised by drug addicts, sexual predators, and a sister’s abusive boyfriends. Eric was kicked, spit on, and his apartment raided by drug dealers. He was forced to panhandle and fake Tourette's Syndrome so people he lived with could collect disability to pay for their next high. Time and again he was hurt and exploited by the same people who were supposed to keep him safe. His early life, as he puts it, “belongs in a horror film.” The experiences made him emotionally fragile, unable to complete even the most mundane social interactions. Riding the subway or going to the store frightened him. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety problems. Then named Eric Velazquez, he had been removed from his sister’s custody and placed in a group home when he met a social worker, Angela Degiaimo. The pair felt an immediate bond and within months, Eric had moved into Angela’s Flatbush apartment. Last year, she officially adopted him. “He just has this loveable thing about him that people are charmed by,” Angela Degiaimo said. “I tell him that we were meant to be a family.”
New York

Struggling with special education, charter schools join together

Chancellor Dennis Walcott discusses special education in charter schools at the kick-off conference for a new collaborative. As the director of special education at the DREAM Charter School, Jacqueline Frey knows firsthand the difficulties charter schools face when serving students with disabilities. One issue, she said, is convincing the city that her school's plan to serve each disabled student is sound. And when she wants to bring her teachers up to date on the best ways to serve students with disabilities, she has to figure out how to compensate for the training that pricey consultants might be able to offer. "If I'm a mom and pop charter school, I can't afford to do that for myself," Frey said. "It helps to find other schools in the same situation." Connecting charter schools with similar special education needs is the chief goal of the New York City Charter School Center’s Special Education Collaborative, which builds off of local efforts to boost special education at charter schools that have been going in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn since 2007. The $1,500-per-school entry fee pays for monthly training sessions, access to counselors and consultants, and an annual conference. The citywide collaborative, which about 90 of the city’s 136 charter schools have already joined, comes at an opportune time. Both of the state's charter school authorizers, the State University of New York and the Board of Regents, are pushing new charter schools to build capacity for more higher-needs students, including more special education students, this year, into their school designs. And at the collaborative’s first conference last month, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the DOE would be pressing charter schools to "up the ante" in how they serve special education students. The pushes are in part a response to criticism that charter schools do not enroll a fair share of special needs students. In recent years, the proportion of students with disabilities at charter schools has actually risen to nearly the city average. The challenge now, advocates say, is to serve disabled students well.
New York

Housing projects in affluent areas face daycare funding cuts

The Mabel Barrett Fitzgerald Day Care Center sits within the Amsterdam Houses public housing complex, recently the site of a sweeping drug bust. A few blocks away, however, glitzy Lincoln Center is flanked by some of the most expensive apartments in Manhattan. The location provides rich field trip opportunities for the Fitzgerald program, which this year received city funding to serve 58 low-income children. But now the center's zip code could take a toll on its budget. The threat comes from the funding structure underlying EarlyLearn, the Administration for Children Services’ ambitious reform of the city’s public daycare system. This summer, ACS is requiring that all public centers, including Fitzgerald, submit applications showing why they deserve continued funding, and next spring, some programs will learn that they have not made the cut. The evaluation process will focus on quality. But it will also take into account something outside centers' control: their address. Under EarlyLearn, the number of city-funded daycare seats across the city will drop, and ACS plans to allot a larger portion of the remaining seats to neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of needy families. To assess need, ACS is looking primarily at the poverty level in the zip code where each center is located. That means that centers in high-poverty zip codes stand a greater chance of receiving continued funding, while the number of slots in more affluent neighborhoods could decrease sharply. Childcare experts and center directors say this approach could shut out poor New Yorkers who live in relatively affluent areas. In particular, they say, residents of some housing projects are at risk of being left without the childcare on which they’ve come to rely.
New York

For high school students, school choice is hard to come by

Is there school choice in New York City? It depends whom you ask. Ask in Harlem, and members of Harlem Parents United, a group organized by charter school operator Eva Moskowitz, might tell you that there is: They have all chosen charter schools for their children and are aggressively pushing the neighborhood's families to have even more options. They have allies in Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who count increasing school choice as a cornerstone of their reforms. But ask a high school student who wants to change schools, and you might get another answer entirely. According to an article in the New York Post, ninth grader Kimselle Castanos said she asked the Department of Education for a transfer dozens of times but didn't get one until she was assaulted by students from another school in the building. The DOE thinks the Post got some major facts wrong, such as how many times Kimselle e-mailed the chancellor, officials told me today. But even if it did, the real story remains that in a system that boasts about the choices open to students, Kimselle and her family felt stuck in a school that wasn't right for her. I heard from countless parents, students, and advocates desperately seeking school transfers when I worked at Insideschools, through the hotline run by parent organization Advocates for Children. Callers reported that their transfer requests, particularly at the high school level, had been denied even though they had compelling reasons for seeking them. Those calls continue to pour in, my former colleague Pamela Wheaton, Insideschools' executive director, told me today. "For whatever reason, it has become increasingly difficult, almost impossible, to get a transfer to another regular high school," Wheaton said.
New York

DOE will spend $78.6m in next 5 years on new database

The Department of Education is signing a $54.9 million contract with a firm called MAXIMUS to streamline the way it tracks services for students with disabilities. Right now, a paper system tracks the process of diagnosing and giving services to special education students, with results that both special education advocates and the department say are poor. The new system will allow administrators and teachers to track these documents in a single place online. It will also be costly: The five-year contract is for $54.9, and the DOE expects extra attached costs like internal training programs so that principals can use the database will cost an additional $23.7 million over five years. The DOE press release that went out on this earlier today includes unusually glowing remarks from the special education advocate Kim Sweet, who as the executive director of Advocates for Children has often criticized the DOE for failing to serve special education students adequately Sweet's statement: "The Department of Education desperately needs a new system for tracking special education data. Under the current system they are unable to track their performance in providing essential services ot students with disabilities with any kind of accuracy. A new data system is essential to helping the Departmetn of Education improve its delivery of special education services and, we hope, will be a key step to holding the Department of Education accountable for the education of this vulnerable population." The contract was not a no-bid but was competitively bid. A law firm helped the department negotiate it pro bono. Here's the full press release, below the jump: