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New York City: 744 special needs preschoolers have no places; kids on waiting lists

Aug 20, 2018, New York Daily News: EXCLUSIVE: City preschools shut out hundreds of kids with severe disabilities Paola Estevez knows when her daughter Jacelyn is suffering, even though the brown-eyed 3-year-old is limited by severe autism and knows only a few words. So it didn't take long for the Bronx mom to realize that the little girl was in pain from her commute to the special education preschool classes she started last September, a round trip that totaled nearly five hours each day. Jacelyn would come home with a soiled diaper and tears in her eyes, often on the verge of hysteria from sitting in place for so long…. But she was also benefiting from the classes at Highbridge Family Services, getting much-needed speech therapy and a valuable opportunity to be with other kids. And even though it meant a punishing commute from their apartment in Soundview, the seat was the only one that Estevez could find. So Estevez kept Jacelyn there until the painful bus ride became too much…. Jacelyn stayed home the rest of the school year because Estevez was unable to find a vacant seat at another school, even after she called more than 20 operators…. "After I took Jacelyn out of Highbridge, her behavior was bad," Estevez said. "Her skills were going away. It wasn't the same after she stopped getting services." Jacelyn is just one of hundreds of city preschool kids with disabilities who are shut out of the special education classes promised by state law, simply because there aren't enough seats to accommodate them. Figures published by the state Education Department on Aug. 3 indicate that the city is short by 744 seats for kids aged 3 to 5. The funding for the classes is there — but the classes themselves aren't. So hundreds of the city's toddlers with the toughest disabilities, including severe autism, developmental delays, blindness and difficulty hearing, are left out each year. Advocates say it's a critical problem. "Every day that preschoolers with disabilities sit on waitlists, is a missed opportunity," said Randi Levine, policy director for Advocates for Children of New York. "When children don't get the services they need, they fall behind."…. City Education Department spokesman Will Mantell said the city currently enrolls about 13,000 students in special education preschool classes, but it has struggled to identify schools that are capable of providing certain services in all areas where kids need seats….


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