DOE shorts special education

It should come as no surprise that a January audit by New York City Comptroller John Liu determined that the city failed to provide individual special education services to many of the students who qualified for such help during the 2009-10 school year. The audit simply affirms inefficient practices and city Department of Education mismanagement that educators, parents and advocacy groups have complained about for quite a while.

A Jan. 24 Daily News article on the audit highlighted some of its key findings, which include the following:

  • About a quarter of speech, occupational and physical therapy, and vision and hearing services needed by school-age students who qualified to receive such assistance were not made available.
  • The DOE failed to aggressively recruit more special education staff, which resulted in the agency having to unnecessarily go to independent consultants who charged higher rates.
  • The youngest children were hit especially hard, with only 34 percent of the city’s 43,000 preschool students getting the help they needed. Those in the poorest school districts were neglected the most.

Over the past three years, the UFT has received more than 4,500 complaints from educators, parents, advocacy groups and others who say that students’ Individualized Education Programs are not being met by the DOE. That is particularly true for related service providers in speech, occupational and physical therapy and counseling because the network system for providing itinerant services in our schools doesn’t work for kids.

“It has been a disaster,” said UFT Vice President for Special Education Carmen Alvarez. “You can have two groups of kids in the same school who are serviced by different networks, and if one group isn’t serviced by the network responsible for that particular school, then they are shut out.”

The DOE lacks a transparent process for determining where additional service providers are needed, and it doesn’t work hard enough at hiring and retaining key personnel. Making matters worse, the DOE does not have sufficient controls in place to make sure that its providers are really unavailable before contracting out the work at a higher cost.

The DOE tried to poke holes in the audit by saying that Liu’s numbers are inflated. But the agency ultimately admitted that too many students are waiting too long for needed services. We can only hope that acknowledging the problem is the first step toward fixing it.

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