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Fear and loathing: New Yorkers bid farewell to the special ed data system educators love to hate

SESIS won’t disappear from local schools for at least a year, but New Yorkers are already bidding the special education data system farewell.

The state’s attorney general put out a statement responding to Friday’s news that the city education department would replace the Special Education Student Information System, which launched in 2011 to immediate and sustained frustration.

Parents and advocates for students with special needs tweeted suggestions for building a better system.

And on Facebook, hundreds of people responded to the city teachers union’s post about the news with criticism of SESIS — and fear about what might replace it.

The reaction has been as sweeping as the presence of SESIS in the lives of educators who work with students with disabilities. The $130 million system was supposed to centralize and streamline information about those students, but it has been glitchy and hard to use since its launch, costing the city more in overtime for the teachers who use it and making it difficult to track whether students are getting the help they need.

“For too long, this program has been plagued with systemic problems and inefficiencies that have posed great challenges to our teachers and deprived our most vulnerable students,” said state Attorney General Letitia James in a statement. “I appreciate that the Department of Education recognizes these serious limitations and has decided to seek an alternate system. As they begin the process of designing this new system, I urge them to engage with the teachers, parents, and students who rely on such a system for their input.”

The department said Friday that families and educators would be involved in the new system’s design, and those people are already making their ideas known.

“Here’s to hoping they have teachers and related service providers part of the design of new system,” tweeted Lori Podvesker, a parent who sits on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy. “So it takes real life situations into consideration in real time!’

“Whatever system replaces SESIS needs to offer data and progress transparency to PARENTS,” wrote Rachel Ford, a parent advocate focused on students with autism.

Some of the commenters on the union’s page were gleeful — “Yippee … out of the stone age,” one wrote — while others were tinged with wistfulness. “SESIS is one of the reasons I retired,” wrote one former teacher.

Others laid out in plain terms the toll the system has taken on special education teachers’ time. “It takes hours and hours and hours now to get things done — I hope they really make improvements,” wrote Carolyn Nones on the union’s Facebook page. “This type of documentation and paperwork really requires a full time data entry person who is assigned to this task.”

Several educators noted that colleagues in other districts don’t have the same challenges they do when logging students’ information.

“We need to look at what’s already out there in other districts and other states,” wrote Krystal Lynn on the union’s Facebook page. “It’s like there’s this mentality [at the city education department] that nobody else does anything useful but I’ve taught in different places and have a variety of teacher friends out there. The technology is already created. Let’s use money wisely.”

One of the most-liked comments on the union’s page came from Das Sunshine, who wrote, “Let’s not celebrate until we find out what they are replacing it with! 😳”