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Schools Chancellor announces new strategy for rebuilding trust in city’s special education

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New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks on Thursday announced a new path his administration hopes will revive New Yorkers’ trust in the city’s special education system within public schools.

The chancellor’s proposed plan includes the creation of a paid internship program for high school students in occupational, physical and speech therapy for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), scaling and sustaining the four programs serving students with disabilities, and the creation of a new advisory council which will make recommendations regarding DOE special education programs.

“Our students with disabilities and their families deserve public schools that can meet their unique needs and prepare young people for bold futures – regardless of disability status. Our dedicated educators and staff work every day to serve students with disabilities, yet our system has not fully delivered on our commitment to these students. We need to transform our systems and approaches to achieve the goal of a truly inclusive public school system,” Banks said in a statement released Dec. 1. “I am proud to share that we are making strides towards this goal with the expansion of these successful programs serving students with disabilities across the city. However, our work doesn’t stop here. The new Special Education Advisory Council will empower our family and advocacy community to share their insight and support us in radically transforming the school experience for everyone.”   

The chancellor’s proposed plan includes a $205 million investment into the four current programs which serve students with disabilities. These programs are the Sensory Exploration, Education & Discovery (SEED), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Nest and Horizon, and Path programs and the investment into these programs will prioritize the wellbeing of students with disabilities.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, IEP students in the city made up approximately 19% of the student population, or about 200,000 students within the DOE. During the 2020-2021 school year, the DOE also saw a significant hit to the number of students receiving referrals for special education, with just 9,457 students being referred compared to the approximately 16,000 the previous year and 22,000 in 2018-2019.

This significant decrease in referrals impacted Black students disproportionately, with Black public school children seeing a near 50% decrease in referrals in the last school.

Several city leaders expressed excitement for the proposed path, stressing the importance of supporting the city’s most vulnerable students.

“By expanding special education initiatives, investing in student wellness, and providing additional opportunities to gain new experiences, the Department of Education is taking a positive step forward for our communities,” said City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. “It is also critical for parents and families to be engaged throughout this process, and the creation of a new advisory council is welcomed. As a Council, we will continue to monitor the progress of these programs to ensure they fully support New York City students with disabilities.” 

Those directly involved with the advocacy of students with disabilities also applauded the chancellor’s proposal.

“We are pleased to see the Chancellor focusing attention on special education and taking the opportunity to hear and learn directly from those with experience in the system – former students, parents, advocates, educators, and other experts,” said Maggie Moroff, senior special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children of New York. “We look forward to being a part of this work and to moving the system forward to improve the daily experiences and long-term outcomes for all our students with disabilities and their families here in NYC.”

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