New York

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

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.