Special education students are in danger of getting lost in the shuffle in the massive New York City public school system, according to a Brooklyn lawmaker who is demanding that a point person be hired to oversee the implementation of services to children with special needs.
Councilmember Mark Treyger, a Democrat whose district includes Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst, said he will introduce a resolution in the City Council on Feb. 13 calling on the Department of Education (DOE) to appoint a special education “czar” to ensure that students with disabilities receive all of the services to which they are entitled.
“We need a point person at the DOE to make sure these children are getting the services they need and to make sure parents are being made aware of the services their children should be getting,” Treyger told this newspaper on Feb. 11.
As Treyger envisions it, the duties of a special education “czar” would include checking in regularly with every school in New York to make sure special education youngsters are getting all of the services they need.
Approximately 220,000 children currently enrolled in the city’s vast school system are classified as special education students who qualify for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). The number represents about 20 percent of the 1.1 million school children in the city.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a 1990 federal law, special education students are entitled to the same education as youngsters without disabilities and accommodations must be made to ensure equality for all students.
Treyger, a former high school teacher, said he has heard complaints from parents about a lack of paraprofessionals in certain classrooms and about children not getting the chance to work with a speech therapist.
In addition, “Some students in our schools are medically fragile. When they take the school bus, they need a nurse or a bus matron traveling with them. It’s not clear to me that parents are aware that they have a right to this,” he said.
At an Oct. 16 hearing of the council’s Education Committee focusing on special education, Nicole Kabel, a Bay Ridge resident whose young daughter, Sally, a leukemia patient, had recently died, described her dealings with the bureaucracy as she tried to get her daughter the services she needed to get to and from school safely.
Sally Kabel was medically cleared to attend the Star Academy on the Upper West Side on Aug. 14, 2017. But Nicole Kabel was informed that a nurse was required to accompany the child on the school bus each day. On the second day of school, Sept, 8, 2017, the bus showed up outside the Kabel’s Bay Ridge home without the nurse. Days later, the nurse informed Kabel that she had been reassigned.
“That was very confusing. It is still very confusing,” Kabel testified. “Nobody talks to anybody, especially the parents who are left there with a fragile child on the sidewalk.”
Treyger said he was deeply troubled by statistics showing special education students in jeopardy of falling behind in critical areas.
According to the DOE’s own data, only 78 percent of students with disabilities are receiving all of the services they are entitled to under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, he said. “And our four-year graduation rate for special education students is only 50.4 percent,” he added.
Treyger, who is chairperson of the council’s Education Committee, admitted that his resolution would be non-binding and that the Council can’t force the DOE to take action. “But I am using my bully pulpit to bring attention to this issue,” he said, adding that he is seeking to put public pressure on the DOE to hire a special education “czar.”
The mother of one Brooklyn special education student said her son, who is autistic, is getting all of the help he needs in the classroom. “I’m very satisfied with his school. They’re doing a great job,” she told this newspaper. The parent, who asked that her name not be published, said she wouldn’t object to the appointment of a special education czar. “I’m fine with that,” she said.