Stories and Grievances: Special Education
Federal Judge Orders the New York City Department of Education To Stop Illegally Delaying Private School Tuition For Special Needs Children Not Provided Accommodations in Public School
The city Education Department illegally held up court-ordered tuition reimbursement payments for families of private school students with disabilities during the pandemic, a Manhattan federal judge ruled. The city is legally obligated to pay private school tuition for special education students it can’t accommodate in public schools. But the Education Department abruptly halted payments for at least 1,000 students when the pandemic hit last March, demanding their private schools submit remote learning plans for DOE approval before the city released funds, according to legal filings.
Federal Judge Orders the New York City Department of Education To Stop Illegally Delaying Private School Tuition For Special Needs Children
Betsy Combier, Advocatz.com, August 13, 2021
We are advocates for school choice. What this means is, we know that each child is unique in their ability to learn and needs help and support which may be different from any other child. For instance, if a child is diagnosed as having autism, he/she may be able to talk and interact, or not. There are many different manifestations of Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD.
Similarly, a child may be exceptionally gifted, yet have learning difficulties that must be monitored and addressed on an individual level in order for the child to feel free to create and explore new ideas. These children are often called “2e” or “Twice-exceptional“. The New York City Department of Education has no place for these children, despite being given $billions of dollars to do just that by the Federal Government in a contract with the parent called an Individualized Education Plan.
Federal Law mandates the provision of resources to each child, but the Department of Education in New York City – the largest in the United States – would rather keep the money and harm the child. I found this out in 1986 when I heard from the teacher of my oldest daughter that she needed to be evaluated. After the evaluation, I was told that my child was exceptionally gifted, but had auditory processing issues, so my quest began to find out everything I could on 2e children. Along the way, I heard about Impartial Hearings, and I got all the services my daughter needed to be funded by the NYC Department of Education. It wasn’t easy – more like pulling teeth out of the mouth of the DOE without anesthesia – but I learned a lot about what actually was going on inside the DOE. I started helping other parents get the money.
Unfortunately, after a parent wins the tuition money for a private school, then he/she has to get the DOE to issue a check and the pandemic stopped timely payments legally won. Until Judge Loretta Preska made her ruling. She is quoted below, but I am highlighting it here:
“”It would be backwards indeed if DOE — the ‘public school system that failed to meet the child’s needs in the first place’ — could refuse to fund a student’s placement at a private school ‘simply because that school lacks [DOE’s] stamp of approval,’”
I have copied and posted the entire decision below.
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NYC Education Dept. Illegally Delayed Private School Tuition Reimbursements For Disabled Students Amid Pandemic, Judge Rules
by Michael Elsen-Rooney, NY Daily News, February 23, 2021
The city Education Department illegally held up court-ordered tuition reimbursement payments for families of private school students with disabilities during the pandemic, a Manhattan federal judge ruled.
The city is legally obligated to pay private school tuition for special education students it can’t accommodate in public schools.
But the Education Department abruptly halted payments for at least 1,000 students when the pandemic hit last March, demanding their private schools submit remote learning plans for DOE approval before the city released funds, according to legal filings.
That policy resulted in months-long payment delays that forced families to either go out of pocket for tens of thousand of dollars in tuition costs, or — if they couldn’t afford it — pull their child out of school until the payments came through, according to advocates and legal papers.
“It’s just been really horrible,” said Mary Fernandes, the parent of a 10-year-old with autism who at one point last year was owed $20,000 in tuition payments from the city. “With COVID, they’ve gotten even worse.”
Ferandes, a case manager at a law firm, has had to open multiple credit cards and borrow off of her retirement plan to keep up with the $3,300-a-month tuition costs at her son’s specialized Manhattan school for students with autism.
“Pretty much my credit has been destroyed,” Fernandes said. “It’s just been non-stop, constant stress.”
One high school student with multiple disabilities was forced to temporarily drop out of her court-approved Manhattan private school for a month last summer because the city failed to deliver its reimbursement payments and the student’s single mother couldn’t front the cost, according to Rebecca Shore, the family’s lawyer.
“This loss was demoralizing for our client, and put at risk her ability to graduate,” said Shore, an attorney with Advocates for Children.
City officials argued they were being fiscally responsible by thoroughly vetting the remote learning plans of the private schools and making sure they were still offering the same level of service before releasing millions of dollars from drained city coffers.
The city “made common sense adjustments to tuition reimbursements so that private schools wouldn’t be paid for services that weren’t provided during the pandemic, such as busing and foodservice,” said Education Department spokeswoman Danielle Filson.
But in a sharply-worded decision issued last Friday, Manhattan Federal Judge Loretta Preska admonished city officials for second-guessing legal orders from special education judges.
“It would be backwards indeed if DOE — the ‘public school system that failed to meet the child’s needs in the first place’ — could refuse to fund a student’s placement at a private school ‘simply because that school lacks [DOE’s] stamp of approval,’” Preska wrote.
“The economic bind in which DOE finds itself does not afford it a roving commission to re-evaluate the propriety of Orders that the IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Act) and New York law make plain are final and binding,” Preska continued.
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The pandemic-related tuition reimbursement delay is yet another wrinkle for families navigating the maddening journey of securing a city-funded slot in a specialized private school.
The process can take years and involve costly legal services, expensive outside evaluations and frustrating bureaucratic delays — and favors families with time and resources.
Even when families do manage to win a private school placement from a judge in the city’s severely overburdened special education hearing system, it can take months or years to get fully reimbursed for tuition that can exceed $100,000 for a single year.
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The city’s slow response to special education court orders is the subject of a nearly two-decade-old class-action lawsuit. In 2011, the Education Department created an entire office to speed up its implementation of court orders — but families and advocates say it hasn’t solved the problem.
Wait time for tuition reimbursement has grown longer in recent years, lawyers and parents say, and the DOE’s pandemic policy exacerbated an already serious problem.
For low-income families, borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to front tuition costs while awaiting city reimbursement isn’t an option.
DOE officials say roughly 130 private schools enrolling about 1,000 students on the city dime were required to submit remote learning plans for city approval last year before officials released tuition payments, though advocates say the number is likely higher.
As of December, about 300 of those students had been approved for full reimbursement, 300 were approved for a reduced reimbursement, and another 400 were still being reviewed, according to court papers.
Education Department spokeswoman Filson said “no student should be denied special education services because of payment delays. We’re committed to improving the impartial hearing process.” The DOE is considering appealing last week’s decision, she added.