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Silencing Parents over Special Ed

New York comes for special-ed provision

Photo: Shutterstock Anton Ivanov

A proposed new amendment under consideration by the New York State Board of Regents would effectively negate parents’ rights to file complaints about the implementation of services for their children in nonpublic schools. This has been one of the most potent tools available to parents of nonpublic school children with special needs to force local school districts to provide services mandated by federal law.

The proposal is officially known as “Proposed Amendment of Section 200.5 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education Relating to Special Education Due Process Hearings.”

Parents often face resistance from school districts over the services their children need — even when the services are documented as needed in a child’s Individualized Education Services Plan (IESP). New York state law allows parents to pay for private services and be reimbursed if the local school district cannot provide them, which is often the case. The final determinations are made by impartial officers at official hearings. The amendment would do away with the hearings, and it is this aspect of due process that is now under threat.

More often than not, parents have emerged victorious at these impartial hearings. As a practical matter, most students receiving special education services in New York have obtained their funding as a result of these hearings. It is precisely this due process, the impartial hearing enforcing implementation, that is threatened by the proposed new amendment to state education regulations.

This proposal would adversely impact all nonpublic school parents, and askanim are working with Catholic advocates and others in the nonpublic school community to combat it. There are whisperings, however, that rather than being a cost-saving measure, the amendment is actually fallout from last year’s New York Times articles, which, among other canards, accused yeshivah parents of taking more than their fair share of services.

“This is a huge issue,” says Mrs. Toba Lichtenstein, director of Agudath Israel’s Parent Navigator program. “The local district is responsible for delivering the services written on a child’s IESP. I’ve been involved in many cases where the district did not assign service providers to the children of our community. For an elementary school student, this may mean not learning how to read. The parent’s recourse is to pay out-of-pocket and then request an impartial hearing to obtain reimbursement. If this amendment is adopted, that avenue is closed to parents, and the child will be left without needed special education services.”

Families with special-needs children will have no other options than mediation and a state complaint process, neither of which have the same appeal and reimbursement allowances as the current impartial complaint process .

Askanim have engaged the Board of Regents and the State Education Department in trying to persuade officials to reject the proposed amendment. Conversations thus far have been productive, but it is expected to be an uphill battle.

As Agudah chief of staff Avrohom Weinstock put it, “Children with special needs are our communities’ most vulnerable population. They must have every avenue open to ensure they receive the services they need to thrive.”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1015)

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