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NYC: "Growing number," 10,000 ASD students need SPED places

Jan 31, 2024, Chalkbeat: 10,000 NYC students are shut out of programs for children with autism

Adding 160 seats is a start

New York City is expanding programs for students with autism, part of a broader pledge top Education Department officials announced Wednesday to create special education programming closer to where students live.

Beginning next school year, the city will guarantee that rising kindergartners in three local districts won’t have to leave their neighborhoods to access some of the city’s most popular programs for kids with autism.

Children with disabilities often must travel outside their neighborhoods to attend schools with smaller class sizes staffed by teachers with specialized training. Those trips can stretch over an hour each way, thanks in part to the city’s notoriously unreliable yellow bus system.

Lengthy commutes can make it difficult to attend after-school programs or build friendships with children in their neighborhood who attend local schools....

Children with autism who are entering kindergarten in Districts 5, 12, and 14 will be guaranteed a spot in a specialized program in their home district. (Those districts cover Harlem, Crotona Park in the Bronx, and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods, respectively.) To accomplish that, the city is adding 160 total seats in those neighborhoods across three existing programs: ASD Nest, Horizon, and AIMS, which is short for Acquisition, Integrated Services, Meaningful Communication, and Social Skills.

Although Banks previously expanded Nest and Horizon programs, the addition of 160 new slots represents a drop in the bucket given the growing number of children who are classified with autism and who qualify for them. More than 10,000 children with autism could benefit from a seat in a Nest or Horizon program but are placed elsewhere, according to Education Department figures.

City officials acknowledged that they’re starting small and characterized the effort as a pilot program. Christina Foti, the department’s special education chief, said Wednesday’s announcement is “a ripple that will eventually turn into a tidal wave.”…

But questions remained about the city’s plans, including whether it will scale up special education programming beyond the autism-focused initiative reaching just three of 32 local districts. Multiple advocates also noted there was little mention of the city’s vision for District 75, a network of schools that educate more than 26,000 students with more significant disabilities. Those children are largely separated from students without disabilities.

“Like so many things, the devil is going to be in the details about how it plays out,” Moroff said….

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