July 8, 2019, Brooklyn (NYC) Daily Eagle: Parents sacrifice savings and careers in fight for special education services https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2019/07/08/parents-sacrifice-savings-and-careers-in-fight-for-special-education-services/ Some parents say they’ve depleted savings and put jobs on hold as they fight to get their kids necessary special-education services from the city. Those battles are taking longer than ever because the system designed to resolve parent disagreements with schools — known as impartial hearings — is beset by too many complaints and too few hearing officers, according to a May state Education Department report. Parents and guardians filed nearly 7,500 due process complaints filed through Feb. 21 of the recently ended school year. Meanwhile, complaints rose more than 50% over the previous three school years, the report found. … The complaint seeks speech therapy and paraprofessional services for a first-grader. School officials refuse to provide the help, Decker said. “These kids are just languishing waiting for impartial hearings,” she said. “It’s a disaster.” … Parents typically request a hearing for one of three reasons: Their child isn’t getting mandated services, requires services the school isn’t willing or able to provide, or needs a different setting or school to get the necessary supports. Among the common frustrations expressed by parents was how time-consuming and challenging it is to get their children the help they need…. One mom told THE CITY she spent $60,000 on evaluations of her daughter’s needs, legal fees for an attorney to shepherd the complaint, and tuition for a private school where her daughter registered in August 2018. That same month, she filed a due process complaint seeking reimbursement from the DOE, but didn’t get approved for the tuition payments until May. The funds still haven’t been provided, she said. Despite the financial hardship, the mom doesn’t question her decision. Her daughter hadn’t been taught to read in a Queens public school by age 7, but learned to do so in one year in the private setting for kids with special needs. … Challenges in getting services and reimbursements are not new: The city has been out of compliance of federal special education rules for the past 13 years, according to the state Education Department. In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to ease parents’ burdens by speeding decisions on tuition reimbursement. Advocates told THE CITY that instead, an influx of new cases overwhelmed an already burdened hearing system. The number of complaints jumped 51% during the following three school years, the state report showed. The number of special education students has increased by nearly 20,000 since the 2013-’14 school year, to roughly 224,000 in 2017-18, according to DOE officials. School officials said they’ve hired 4,300 more special education staffers, including 3,000 teachers, over that same time period. They noted that the state Education Department is responsible for hiring hearing officers. … “The impartial hearing process should be as easy as possible for families, and in the last month we’ve begun replacing the impartial hearing data system and formed a new working group with the state to develop long-lasting improvements,” said Danielle Filson, a spokesperson for the city Department of Education. “This builds on hiring more impartial hearing staff and a $3.4 million investment in improving impartial hearing facilities,” she added. “There is more work to do and we are supporting the state as much as possible to hire more hearing officers.” … About one out of five city public school students has an IEP. DOE officials said they recently added $33 million for new special education services and programs for the coming school year, after spending $5.1 billion in the last school year. That’s out of a city schools budget of more than $27 billion.
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