FHF In The News- DOE’s Special Ed Reforms Creating Backlog of Staten Island Students Waiting for Evaluations

 
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By Diane C. Lore of the Staten Island Advance:

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A growing number of Staten Island children who are in need of speech therapy are waiting to get the help they need because of changes the Department of Education’s special education division made in the way it evaluates children for these and other special education services.

Such evaluations used to be done on Staten Island by a team of in-house school-based professionals, but under the DOE’s ambitious plan for special education reform known as “A Shared Plan for Success” the process was centralized, so that evaluations are now performed by off-Island providers.

Parents who have a child in need of an evaluation can either go to another borough, or wait until a DOE provider is scheduled to come to Staten Island.

One veteran Staten Island special ed employee with the DOE said part of the problem is that the reforms were rolled out without adequate planning: “The borough has a backlog of possibly 100 or more children (waiting for evaluations) and as a result, they are ‘out of compliance.’ When that happens, families can much more easily win an impartial hearing, and get private school tuition or other special services that cost the DOE extra for not meeting mandated time frames with testing protocols.”

COSTLY DELAYS

Under state and federal law, a 60-day clock begins ticking once a child is recommended for special education services.

The DOE has 30 days to evaluate a child, and by the 45th day, the process of creating an individualized education plan (IEP) should be underway, so that, by the 60th day, the child has begun receiving services. Once the clock runs down, the DOE is “out of compliance” — and parents can get an impartial hearing to force DOE to provide services. In certain cases the DOE has had to pay for services, including tuition to private school.

“Parents don’t know their rights,” said special education advocate Andrea Lella of Families Helping Families, who advocates for parents in the hearing process.

“And the sad thing is that the DOE has the talent and the resources to do it right,” she said. “They just haven’t gotten there yet.”

‘A REAL PROBLEM’

“It’s a real problem,” said Ms. Lella.

She said a simliar condition exists for children waiting for vision therapy, occupational therapy, and neurological evaluations.

“Everyone is spread too thin because of the new reforms, the new system,” she said.

The backlog comes at a time when the number of special-needs students in Island schools is increasing at an unprecedented rate:

  • One in every four Staten Island students has an IEP.
  • Staten Island has the highest percentage of students in the five boroughs with an IEP. According to DOE statistics, 24 percent of Staten Island students have an IEP.
  • The number of Island students with an IEP has grown faster than the rate of total enrollment in the last seven years.

DOE ADDS CONTRACTS

A spokesman said the DOE recently secured six new contracts for speech evaluation services for Staten Island.

“We are proud that we were able to recently secure six new contracts for speech evaluation services on Staten Island to supplement those already in place to ensure Staten Island students are evaluated for services quickly and conveniently,” said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield.

“The DOE is committed to making sure every student has the services they need to thrive in the classroom, and that it is easy for families to access these services,” he said.

Parents, if you are having problems getting your child evaluated for speech and related therapy, e-mail lore@siadvance.com.

 

The original article can be found here: http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/12/post_1036.html

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