How New York is destroying Special Ed

February 1, 2013 at 2:02 am 2 comments

Bureaucracy is typically a nightmare, but the NYC Department of Education takes it to a whole new stratum, preventing students with special needs from accessing vital services and then nickel-and-diming the providers of such services. This year, they proudly graduated to a new level of insanity, creating widespread headache epidemics throughout the city. (Note: I speak from the perspective of an independent contractor providing SETSS to students in non-public schools.)

It is January, just about halfway through the school year that began five months ago. Three of the eligible students in my class are only beginning their special education services now. Three kids waited five months. Besides slipping dangerously far behind in their academic work, the one whose counseling was delayed already earned a suspension and was almost expelled. This is a sincere student who is interested and willing to work with a school counselor on his impulsiveness. What’s the holdup? Some of it was simply lack of communication. In an ideal world, when the IEP team decides to mandate services for a child, they should automatically and immediately present the parents with the necessary forms to make the services happen. Instead, the DOE tends to rest on its laurels until the parent comes knocking:

Parent: You said my kid was supposed to get SETSS. Why isn’t it happening? The school says they never got the approval letter.
CSE: Let’s see… it seems you never sent in the Mumble Jumble Crumble form.
Parent: What form?
CSE: You have to send in the MJC form. We don’t have your MJC.
Parent: I never heard of any MJC! What’s an MJC?
CSE: Oh fine, we’ll send you one. Fill it in and send it back, then we can send you the approval.

This is if the parent is lucky enough to reach a person on the first try. Often you’ll be told “they’ll call you back” to hold you off for another week or two until you decide to call them. And what they don’t tell you is that you’d better keep a copy of your form because you will probably have to send it again after they lose it.

So that’s a communication problem. Remember that, because it happens to the teachers later in this post, too. There’s also an efficiency problem. The DOE buildings must be heated by a paper furnace; it’s the only way to explain why they require reams of paperwork and yet often don’t seem to have the document du jour. Like this parent, who knew from experience to request the MJC or whatever form her kid needed:

Parent: My child is supposed to be getting SETSS, as per his IEP. Please send our MJC.
Parent: We still haven’t received our MJC….
CSE: Your child’s services were discontinued.
Parent: What! He still has a learning disorder. He is still failing in general ed. And his current IEP, signed by your representative, says his services should continue!
CSE: His file says his case was closed.
Parent: WHY?
CSE: It says “lack of parental involvement.”
Parent: What does that mean? I was just at his IEP meeting three months ago. You have my dated signature on his IEP, which says that he should get services through June 2013.
CSE: You need to prove it.

Even though their own people had signed that IEP a few months earlier, and they presumably retained a copy for their records, the mother had to take a day off of work to march hers to HQ and argue for her involvement. Then they had to start again with the MJC. Thank goodness for involved parents or these kids would never get anywhere.

Another one got the forms through without a hitch. But the approval form was missing the specified number of sessions. They won’t honor that. So the parents sent it back and, unbelievably, they actually received it back again without undue delay! This time the kid’s name was misspelled. Of course if there’s any mismatch on any records, it’s as if it never happened. So it had to go back AGAIN. Why did they even re-type the kid’s name? They only had to enter a single digit onto the existing form!

So, that’s why I am still starting with new students in December and January. One year I let a kid into the program without the approval in hand, under the assumption that since his IEP said he was supposed to get services as of the first day of school, that meant the approval would come. It didn’t. Probably lack of parental involvement (the parents were fine, but most people don’t realize you have to be a battering ram to get anywhere in the DOE. They were lovely, un-pushy people.) I never saw a dime for all the work I did with that student before realizing that the forms wouldn’t show up. I, along with most other slightly-jaded providers, no longer see students on credit – or at least, I limit the amount I will see on credit at a given time (sometimes they’ll honor the IEP retroactively, but now I know not to count on it). I really feel for the kids, and for the general ed teachers who have to deal with them alone, but I have to pay my rent.

Another student began acting out and losing focus in class. The mother wanted him to see the school counselor because she felt it was likely a response to his father having recently become seriously ill. The DOE denied the services because he had passed the state tests (taken before the father’s illness) so he obviously didn’t need any educational help. At the risk of sounding unsophisticated: D’oh.

There, we have now solved half of the DOE’s budget deficit by avoiding approving (and hence paying for) special services for the most vulnerable students. In my next post, I will elaborate on how the DOE resolves the rest of its budget woes by avoiding paying even for services already approved and provided. Stay tuned, the fun is only beginning!


Entry filed under: Special education, Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

We all started somewhere Part II: How the NYC DOE gets teachers to work for free (or cheap)

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