MANHATTAN — The Department of Education admitted Wednesday that more than 48,000 of its special needs students did not get the legally required help they were entitled during the past school year.
But at least it was not as bad as it was the year before.
A new DOE report detailing demographic data of students with disabilities showed that approximately 27 percent of the roughly 193,000 students with disabilities were in schools that were not fully meeting their needs — like counseling for behavior disorders, speech therapy for language delays, occupational therapy for motor delays or visual services for vision impairments — mandated by their Individualized Education Program (IEPs.)
That was down from a year ago when 41 percent of students who were only getting partial or none of their services, according to the report.
“The fact remains that over 25 percent of students with disabilities — nearly 50,000 students — are still going without all of the special education services they are entitled to receive under law,” Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, said in a statement. “NYC has a lot of work to do.”
Watchdogs are concerned that without getting their mandated support services, many children with disabilities are unable to meet their academic and developmental goals. Only 10 percent of students with disabilities passed the state English exam given to the city’s third through eighth graders least year, Sweet pointed out.
Under federal law, the city must ensure that students with disabilities are in the "least restrictive" environment possible, which means that neighborhood schools must accommodate these children rather than shunting them off elsewhere. But these schools don't always have the staff and other resources to provide kids what they need.
Roughly 19 percent of the city's 1.1 million students have IEPs.
A middle schooler with an IEP mandating a seat in a mixed math class of disabled and non-disabled students co-taught by a special education teacher and general education teacher, for instance, might instead be placed in a general ed class for the subject.
Staten Island’s District 31 had the most students with IEPs, at more than 15,400, followed Manhattan’s District 2 (which includes TriBeCa, Greenwich Village, Gramercy and the Upper East Side) and the Bronx’s District 10 (which includes Riverdale, Fordham, Belmont and Kingsbridge).
Lori Podvesker, of the advocacy group INCLUDEnyc, was not surprised to see Staten Island’s high number of students with special needs.
“It’s incredibly insular. It’s not necessarily what you know, but who you know,” she said, adding that families in the borough have strong political clout. “They have some fantastic parent advocates out there,” she said.
Certain districts have a tougher time meeting the needs of students, she added, because of such problems as a shortage of bilingual therapists.
“The poorer the district is, the more likely the need for bilingual therapists. And that’s not happening.”
The DOE’s report conceded the dearth of special needs educators.
“One core challenge is a shortage of qualified teachers for certain license areas, notably bilingual special education teachers and secondary special education teachers,” the report said. “The DOE is actively seeking to address this challenge through large scale and targeted efforts to expand our special education pipeline, engagement with union partners, and work with the New York State Education Department to revisit policies and identify new strategies to increase the availability of appropriately trained and certified teachers.”
The DOE also has long had problems tracking IEPs through its custom-made program Special Education Student Education System (SESIS), which led to a lawsuit from the Public Advocate’s office.
The city is now investing $16.2 million to improve the system over the next several years.