Schools chancellor releases ‘Reimagining Special Education’ report as city works to make public schools more inclusive

public schools chancellor david c. banks at special education announcement
New York City Department of Education Chancellor David Banks announced the completion of the “Reimagining Special Education” report in Sunset Park on Wednesday.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Schools Chancellor David C. Banks stopped by a Sunset Park school on Wednesday to announce the completion of “Reimagining Special Education” — the first official report from the newly-formed New York City Public Schools Special Education Advisory Council.

The council, first announced in December 2022, spent its first year analyzing the current state of special education in New York City and identifying gaps in services and programming, Banks told guests gathered at P.S. 958.

The council made five key recommendations, urging the city’s Department of Education to be “fully inclusive and interdependent,” to restructure general education classes, and to strengthen trust between schools and families, among others.

people at special education announcement in school auditorium
New York City Public Schools are already acting on the recommendations issued in the report, Banks said. Photo by Paul Frangipane

In response to the report, New York City Public Schools expanded a partnership to improve the Individualized Education Program Parent Member role, added programming for students with autism in neighborhood schools, and released a new inclusive language glossary.

The biggest focus, Banks said, is getting kids the support they need close to home.

“For far too long families with disabilities have struggled to find high-quality programs that were close to home,” the chancellor said, stressing that the city will add 160 kindergarten seats across relevant programs such as Nest, Horizon and AIMS, in districts 5, 12 and 14.

Parent Sarahi Orial Mendez said the AIMS program — a special education program in select District 75 schools that serves some students with autism by using Applied Behavior Analysis and Verbal Behavior techniques — has done wonders for her son, Matthew.

Mendez said she had a hard time finding an appropriate school for Matthew, who didn’t start walking until he was four years old. Eventually, he was accepted into the AIMS program at P.S. 958, which his brother also attends.

“Since beginning the AIMS program, Matthew has made a lot of progress. He is able to walk up the stairs by himself, he has learned how to readily move his body and he is moving his fingers more,” she said. “He is becoming more independent.”

Since enrolling, Mendez said Matthew is able to better communicate his wants and needs using a tablet. And perhaps most importantly, she said, he is able to go to school with his brother.

booklets for special education program
Educators showed booklets as part of the New York City Department of Education’s Sensory Exploration, Education and Discovery program. Photo by Paul Frangipane

“We want all of our students to learn that all children are equal and that they deserve equal opportunities and that just because they have needs, doesn’t mean they are different or should be separate,” Mendez said. “I feel so lucky that both of my children can go to one school and we don’t have to worry about Matthew traveling.”

Lucy Antoine also praised the Nest program — a partnership between the DOE and New York University’s ASD Nest Support Project that serves students in a reduced class-size Integrated Co-Teaching model.

Dylan stopped communicating completely at 18 months, at which point he was diagnosed with autism. After struggling to find help for him, Antoine said she found the Nest program and was determined to get him in.

“When he walked into Nest, it was like the biggest blessing,” she said. “This boy used to cry every last day of school because he didn’t want the school year to end. These teachers were nurturing, loving, caring.”

After enrolling into the Nest program at P.S. 255 in Homecrest, Antoine said her son “went from non-speaking to valedictorian twice.” Now, he is a sophomore at Brooklyn Technical High School.

“Dylan is thriving,” she said.

Officials hope that, by growing the programs, they will help all students — not just those with individualized needs.

schools chief of special education clapping at announcement
New York City Department of Education Chief of Special Education Christina Foti said the announcement was “just the beginning.” Photo by Paul Frangipane

“Every child in districts 5, 12 and 14, with and without autism, will have greater access to programs and instructional practices that inspire those bright stars pursuing bold futures,” said DOE Chief of Special Education Christina Foti.

Foti and Banks agreed that this is just the beginning for strengthening special education.

“This announcement is just the start, a ripple that will eventually turn into a tidal wave, transforming how students with disabilities and their families navigate our system,” Foti said. “We heard you, we heard you and we’re in this together.”

“If we get this right for our most vulnerable students, we are laying out a blueprint for how to get it right for all students across the entire city and I’m here for it,” Banks said.