Back to School on Civil Rights and "Count Me In": Special Education, a National Disgrace
The GAO issues a report citing mismanagement of special education programs and requesting greater accountability and oversight. We knew that. Now what?
As the title of this year's Quality Counts report suggests, students with disabilities have the same right as all other children to be included in state standards, assessments, and accountability systems. Otherwise, it's impossible to know how they're performing or how well public schools are serving their needs. But how to do so in a way that's fair and appropriate remains a major concern.
Back to School on Civil Rights looks at more than two decades of federal monitoring and enforcement of compliance with Part B of IDEA. Overall, NCD finds that federal efforts to enforce the law over several Administrations have been inconsistent and ineffective. Failures to ensure local compliance with Part B requirements continue to be widespread and persist over many years. Enforcement of the law is too often the burden of parents who must invoke formal complaint procedures and request due process hearings to obtain the services and supports to which their children are entitled under law.
The Government Accounting Office has issued a report "Special Education: Improved Timeliness and Better Use of Enforcement Actions Could Strengthen Education's Monitoring System" that basically admonishes states for mismanagement of special education programs.
In New York City, those parents (and guardians) who do not have children in public school special education or full inclusion may believe the public relations reports that are issued by the Department of Education. Parents of special needs children know better. The PR being issued is truly high quality, and has excellent documentation of IDEA, parent rights, what special education is, and how the new re-organization has streamlined the giving of services to needy children, but the stories coming from the classroom is much different.
None of the Special education public relations reports issued by the Department of Education is true. New York City for the most part has no special education or full inclusion classrooms that are in compliance with Federal, City and State guidelines. "Resource room" in most schools is exactly the opposite: empty rooms with the UFT Chair sitting there, telling students to do their homework.(As Dorothy Suecoff, UFT Chair does at Stuyvesant High School). Principals look at special education as an unnecessary drain on the budget, even though the Individualized Education Plan brings IN money rather than takes it out of school funds. The special education services required by students in NYC schools simply do not exist, and the IEPs are re-written randomly to reflect whatever the powers that be want to give, rather than what the students need.
At Booker T. Washington MS 54, full inclusion students in the NOVA program were not put onto the roster of the school, so their teachers did not know that these children were, indeed, in need of services such as remedial reading, math, speech/language. When the child started acting up because they were not understanding what was going on, he/she was suspended, thrown into the hallway, or immediately transferred to P811M nearby, which was the restrictive environment special education District 75 school that HAD their names on the roster. Parents of these children who called Booker T. were re-directed to P811M, and were never allowed to speak to their child's teacher. These children, as they were not on the roster, enlarged the NOVA classes beyond allowable size -34-36- in a class, but this information was closely guarded by the Principal. The E-Accountability Foundation received whispered calls from staff and parents late at night with this information.
The Superintendents are the educrats who allocate funds, thanks to Education Law 2590 and Assemblyman Steve Sanders who wrote this Law. We at The E-Accountability Foundation asked the question "How does Federal. City, and State funding get to children who are not on the roster of a school?"
It is our opinion that it doesn't. Then, where does it go? Perhaps, we are thinking, as a Superintendent knows that certain children are full-time students in a class at school A but not on the roster there, maybe he/she (the Superintendent) believes that there is no need to fund these students, because school A doesn't list them, and school B, where they are on the roster, doesn't have them in the building! Perhaps this Superintendent makes it profitable for the Principals of school A and B to keep the kids at school A but not on the roster, as this involves millions of federal dollars? Another advantage is that no one will use these kids' scores on city-wide and state-wide testing, because even if they (the kids not on the roster) take the tests, which often they do not, the scores are not reported...because the kids aren't "there" anyway.
A systemic problem of no accountability allows this fraud to continue and flourish. As the budgets at all levels have no auditors looking over the books, and Principals and Superintendents are on an "honor" system to report the services they have in their schools, and as there is no checking of data, well, then we have a problem. Online school report cards are merely numbers given by the Principal to the DOE web designer. These statistics can be true or false, based upon what the Principal wants to reveal or hide. The ranking of schools is a wonderful way to gain the Principal of a high-ranking school extra money by getting a bonus, and the Superintendent benefits from another bonus every year. Without anyone checking the books, why should any Principal or Superintendent report a downturn in test scores? What incentive is there for honesty? None.
This coverup appears in the news every once in a while, and we have recently read that parents of PS 290 (Manhattan New School) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan sent parents letters asking them to get 504 accommodations for their "learning disabled" kids in order to get extended time on the city-wide tests in reading coming up. If your child is indeed not learning disabled at all, so what? At least the option is presented to beat the system, and everyone benefits, right? Wrong. The child given a false extended time accommodation may, indeed, be struggling because he/she does not know the material, and being given extended time on a test so that he/she passes at a level 2 is certainly not preparing this child for the next grade. Another problem with this approach to beating the system is that it hurts the kids who really need extra time, by weakening efforts to get kids who really need the extra time the 504 accommodation. A parent who requests a 504 in the future will be seen as "one of those parents" who are trying to beat the system and get their struggling - but no IEP child - federally funded benefits.
We mentioned parents. Parents who ask questions about special education or have children who need special education services are advised to keep their children safe by keeping them home, sending them to private school, anything but putting them in harms way in the New York City Department of Education. If your child is already in the system and has an IEP for special services, you may of course go to countless Impartial Hearings, evaluation meetings, hire a lawyer, and fight every minute of every day. The system does not want your child. The DOE is not available to you for anything, unless you happen to have inside information of "know" someone. Advocates For Children takes a few cases, and settles. Very rarely does a parent go into court with the systemic failures suggested above, and in New York State a parent MUST hire an Attorney because the Court does not accept a parent filing a complaint "on behalf of" the child. The case will be dismissed.
We are in a state of witch hunts, retaliation, and name-calling. Any parent who speaks up is attacked and abused or their children are attacked.
The subtle attack is tried first: the parent notices that their child goes to school but cards on the child's truancy are coming home from the Attendance Records office of the school. The child supposedly was absent from school, even though he/she attended all classes. An "innocent" error that can cost the parent and child alot, when the final report card comes home, and there are 45 absences for a semester on it. No one believes the parent, the DOE says that the parent actually does not know his/her own child, and it is therefore the parent's fault and, of course, the child's behavior that is wrong. The Principal can then suspend or discharge the student. The E-Accountability Foundation has spoken with many parents over the past two years who have received the Attendance cards in the mail listing the child's absence from classes even though the parents know this is not so. We tell them to call the school immediately, and write a note, correcting the information. Ask the school to put this letter into your child's file, and check this file as often as possible (this is one of our rights as parent/guardians).
We believe that there is an emergency situation in special education nationwide, and certainly in New York City. We all need to demand an answer to "Where is the money?" We need to hold our Regional LIS, RIS and officials at all levels accountable for not complying with the Law, misallocating very badly needed funds, and we need transparent budgets NOW. As we wrote in our mission statement, "Let's Do it Now".
Our children's future depends on us, and our advocacy for them. We cant wait another minute.
President, The E-Accountability Foundation