Stand Up for Special Education in NYC School Reopening Plans

Stand Up for Special Education in NYC School Reopening Plans

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Anonymous Parent started this petition to Christina Foti, Deputy Chief Academic Officer for Special Education, NYC Dept. of Education

We are writing to urge you to focus attention on several critical issues concerning special education in New York City for the upcoming school year. 

As the parents and guardians of children who receive specially designed instruction to meet their unique learning needs, as outlined in Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs), we have the following priority requests:

  • Added flexibility in enrollment options and deadlines
  • Timely family engagement and collaborative planning
  • Appropriate, school-based staffing
  • Educational equity across blended and fully-remote learning

Enrollment Options and Deadlines

We face a deadline of August 7 to decide if we will enroll our children in fully-remote learning or instead have them attend school part-time as part of a blended learning model. As the parents and guardians of children who have complex learning needs, we currently lack basic information about what level and type of support will be available under each model. 

Adding to the confusion, schools have until August 14 to select one of the blended learning schedules offered by the Department of Education (DOE) or propose an alternative. We hope the DOE will support the efforts of schools to develop plans that give special consideration to the needs of their students from marginalized groups, including students with IEPs. 

To allow us to make an informed decision in the best interest of our children, we therefore request that families of students with IEPs be given additional time--until August 27, 2020 or two weeks before the first day of school, whichever is later--to change our enrollment selection. 

Family Engagement and Participation in Planning 

As part of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, parents (or guardians) have a right to take part in the educational decision-making affecting their child. When schools abruptly closed last spring, the DOE required schools to develop a Special Education Remote Learning Plan (RLP) to outline how each IEP would be implemented through remote learning. In principle, these plans were to have been “guided by [parental] feedback and...changed as needed” but actual follow-through was uneven at best.

Given that NYC students are expected to learn remotely either part-time or full-time this fall and that there remains a possibility that schools will have to close again, we consider it essential that the DOE instruct schools to reach out to families of students with IEPs without delay to discuss their child’s Remote Learning Plan for fall 2020. Families have much to contribute to the development of these plans, including insights drawn from their child’s remote learning experience last spring. Similarly, schools can draw on the lessons learned from that time to ensure that these plans reflect best practices and are tailored to each child’s needs.

School-Based Staffing 

We appreciate the recent assurances by the Chancellor that all families can expect students to be assigned teachers from their school this fall, with only limited exceptions. However, we are not aware of any specific commitment by the DOE regarding the staffing of virtual and in-person classrooms that serve students with IEPs. 

For many of our children, their IEP specifies that they should be placed in a classroom with more than one educator. (This is the case, among others, for students in self-contained and Integrated Co-Teaching classrooms as well as Nest and Horizon programs.) Additionally, depending on the particular learning program mandated by the IEP, their teachers, teaching assistants and other providers must meet certain training and certification requirements. 

Strong relationships are an essential foundation for our children’s learning so we ask the DOE for a firm commitment that students with IEPs will be matched exclusively with educators from their schools for both in-person and/or remote learning. Having access to skilled, trusted, consistent and appropriately credentialed teaching staff will be very important. In addition, we ask you to consider that some students with IEPs may require additional support with remote learning in the form of training for parents, guardians and caregivers, expanded access to skilled paraprofessionals to support student learning at home or other arrangements.

Equity in Access

We share in the DOE’s commitment to “equity and excellence” in education and the principle that schools should provide all children what they need to excel. As one reflection of that commitment, we want to emphasize that families of students with IEPs should have equitable access to educational support and services, whether they attend school in person on some days or instead participate 100% remotely. While many students with IEPs and their families will be best served by having as much time as possible in the school building, it is not the right choice for all of us for health or other reasons. We do not want to feel pressured to send our children into schools in order for them to receive the appropriate education to which they are entitled.

We appreciate your consideration of these important issues and look forward to hearing what action you will take in response.

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