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NYC schools skirting special education laws, investigation finds

The city has failed to provide mandated services to special education students meant to deal with disruptive behavior in the classroom, a state investigation found.

The New York State Education Department began looking into the issue in April, after Advocates for Children of New York and the parents of 20 students filed a complaint describing ways that students with disabilities weren’t be properly supported in their schools. One five-year-old student was separated from his classroom just three days into the school year and placed on a half-day schedule despite protests from his parents, according to the complaint.

Whenever students have a disability that impedes learning for themselves or others, they are supposed to be put through a comprehensive behavioral test that includes observation and consultation with teachers and other service providers. If needed, a plan must be created to help address the disability before it escalates to a serious incident or confrontation.

But in a report released this week, the state found that city schools were “systemically violating the law” by not properly administering this series of early intervention steps. It substantiated all or part of all three allegations submitted as part of the complaint.

“Schools are not following required procedures to identify causes of the challenging behavior or provide appropriate supports to prevent the behavior from occurring,” said Rebecca Shore, director of litigation at AFC-NY.

Shore said the investigation’s findings were especially acute given recent students suspension statistics, which showed special education students took up a larger share of total suspensions last year.

“Suspending students with disabilities results in missed class time and does nothing to address whatever is triggering the misconduct,” Shore said.

As a result of the findings, the Department of Education now must faces a series of deadlines to notify schools about how to properly administer behavioral assessments and devise intervention plans for students with disabilities. It has until mid-January to notify schools and until the end of the year to prove that schools are in compliance with state regulations.

Update: In a statement, a DOE spokeswoman pointed out that student suspensions were down 19 percent last year.

“The DOE supports positive behavior by providing targeted supports to those schools that need it most as well as professional development and trainings,” said the spokeswoman, Erin Hughes.

AFC-NY’s press release, and a copy of the investigation’s findings are below:

Advocates for Children of New York Wins Decision
Enforcing Rights of Students with Disabilities

NEW YORK CITY, November 7, 2013 – The New York State Education Department (NYSED) issued a ruling this week on a complaint filed by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) earlier this year, charging the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) with systemically violating the law by failing to provide crucial behavioral supports for students with disabilities. The NYSED decision affirms AFC’s claim that the NYC DOE must address students’ behavior using Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) as mandated by law.

“Recent statistics show that students with disabilities are suspended at a higher rate than other students,” stated Rebecca Shore, Director of Litigation at Advocates for Children of New York. “Schools are not following required procedures to identify causes of the challenging behavior or provide appropriate supports to prevent the behavior from occurring. Suspending students with disabilities results in missed class time and does nothing to address whatever is triggering the misconduct.”

Over the years, AFC has worked with thousands of families of students with disabilities and rarely seen appropriate behavior support plans from the DOE.

“We hope this decision will motivate the DOE to finally do the right thing for NYC students,” says Kim Sweet, Executive Director at AFC. “FBAs and BIPs were designed specifically to help students improve their behavior and increase positive experiences in school.”

NYSED found systemic noncompliance with the state regulations on mandated behavior support plans. In addition, NYSED found that the forms that the DOE uses do not comply with state requirements. Their investigation also concluded that the DOE does not provide sufficient support and guidance for its schools on positive behavior plans (FBAs and BIPs).

NYSED has ordered the NYC DOE to immediately remedy the system-wide violations and start providing students with disabilities the support they are legally entitled to.

To read the New York State Education Department’s decision, please click here. For a complete list of the demands and to read the complaint filed by AFC, click here.

NYSED Special Education Investigation by GothamSchools.org

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