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Audit: City failed to give timely services to needy children

The Department of Education failed to follow more than 200 orders to give disabled students extra services in a timely fashion, an independent audit released today concludes. The audit was the first-ever comprehensive look at how the city follows through with special education orders.

Parents of children with special needs can argue that their children are not receiving enough services at independent hearings where both the parent and the Department of Education testify. Hearing officers either determine that the current services are adequate — or order the city to do more.

The audit is a result of a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit group Advocates for Children, which often represents parents in these hearings, in 2003. The lawsuit accused the city of not following through with hearing officers’ orders, which range from demanding that children receive extra tutoring to mandating a special program for helping children with autism.

An agreement that settled the suit out of court required regular audits of the Department of Education’s efforts to improve responses. The audit released today, the first in a series required by the settlement, found that school officials failed to meet a pre-determined goal. If the failure is repeated in follow-up audits, it could send Advocates for Children and the city to court.

Officials were supposed to respond to about three-quarters of orders in a timely fashion, but the department only implemented 52%, of them, or 270 out of 558, the audit found. The audit covered a period from June through October of 2008. Certain categories of orders were more often neglected, including teachers to assist preschool students with disabilities (84% unimplemented) and tutoring (64% unimplemented).

The city disputed the audit’s conclusion, saying it relied on a faulty method for deciding what “compliance” means. “It would be a mistake to conclude from this Report that there is some large-scale failure of the DOE to provide services to disabled students or to make payments to the providers of such services,” Jeffrey Dantowitz, a senior counsel to the city’s law department, said in a statement.

The full report is below, followed by Dantowitz’s full statement:

And Dantowitz’s full statement:

While we have great respect for the Independent Auditor, we sharply disagree with its methodology for determining DOE’s compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement, by which it imposed many obligations on DOE that were neither contemplated by the parties nor required by the terms of the settlement agreement. Thus, the figures reported are largely a result of this incorrect methodology and not a reflection of DOE’s true performance. In addition, the areas highlighted by AFC actually concern the timeliness of payments to be made to providers and not the actual delivery of their services. In most of these cases, the DOE paid for the provision of the required services, although perhaps not within the timetable unilaterally set by the Independent Auditor. Thus, it would be a mistake to conclude from this Report that there is some large-scale failure of the DOE to provide services to disabled students or to make payments to the providers of such services. – Jeffrey Dantowitz, Senior Counsel, General Litigation Division, NYC Law Department

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