Adam Dayan, Esq.
"Education Reform" in New York
Over the last several weeks we have received inquiries from parents and advocates regarding two hot-button issues, which appear to be part of a city-wide and state-wide "reform" effort:
(a) Related services for students attending NY State-approved nonpublic schools (NPS's)
Many of you might be aware of a message promulgated by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), and the physical embodiment of that message in letter-form that was recently distributed to NYC impartial hearing officers, regarding the provision of related services to children attending approved nonpublic schools.
Parents have been outraged over the idea that they might not be able to procure the level of related services that their children need. Or that they might have to "give back" services that were previously mandated for their child...if they wanted their child to continue in his/her current NPS, that is.
"How could they do that?" parents have asked.
In its letter, the NYSED cited provisions of the NY regulatory code purportedly supporting its position that an NPS must provide all of the related services that a child requires in order to be appropriate. The NYSED's actions appear to run afoul of the IDEA and contradict federal case law which makes clear that a private school need not provide every service in order to be deemed "appropriate."
(b) The DOE's "new reform" relating to inclusion
For a brief background, see: http://www.schoolbook.org/2012/09/21/doe-special-ed-changes-progressing-well/
In short, the DOE has been on a mission that operates on the principle that students currently enrolled in certain "more supportive" ("more restrictive") special education setttings can be educated just as well, perhaps better, in less supportive settings that are closer to mainstream, or general education environments. I'm not entirely clear on what is new about this movement. School districts have always recommended the least supportive environment possible (and, in fact, federal and state law call for educating a child in the least restrictive environment).
So perhaps the "new reform movement" is not a new course of action, but a more aggressive, more thought-out course of action. As a result, there appears to be a re-configuration of certain DOE policies and a re-allocation of city resources.
To place a child in a more mainstreamed environment, however, when there is a clear need for the more supportive setting was not intended by the IDEA. Such a move likely would amount to a violation of the child's right to an appropriate education.
While I don't discount the benefit of mainstreaming to the extent possible and appropriate peer modeling with non-disabled peers, I do worry that the Department's screening and decisionmaking process on this matter might be influenced by external pressures unrelated to the question of, Will this specific action help this specific student succeed?
* With respect to both of the above issues, it is still your child's individual, unique needs which govern the program and placement process. Not the other way around, regardless of what state ed may have you think.