Streams

Guide: Your Special Education Child

How can I obtain an Individualized Education Program (I.E.P.) for my child?

Students with disabilities are entitled to an Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an I.E.P., under federal law. This means having an evaluation and getting the right services to meet their individual needs, whether they have autism, an emotional disturbance, physical disabilities or learning disabilities like dyslexia. The New York City Education Department breaks down the I.E.P. process into five basic steps.

Step 1 is the initial referral, which can be made by any number of individuals who interact with your child, including you. If you believe that your child would benefit from an I.E.P., you can submit a written request for an evaluation to the principal or another staff member at your child’s school, or to your local Committee on Special Education. You may also ask a school professional to help you complete the referral.

You will be sent a Notice of Referral when your request is received. You must formally consent to an evaluation, even if you made the initial referral yourself. From the time you consent, the Education Department has 60 school days to complete the evaluation (Step 2) of your child’s abilities and needs.
Evaluators must identify your child as having one of the following disabilities for him or her to be eligible for an I.E.P.: autism; deafness; deaf-blindness; emotional disturbance; hearing impairment; mental retardation; learning disability; multiple disabilities; orthopedic impairment; other health impairment, speech or language impairment; or traumatic brain injury or visual impairment, including blindness. Your child may be able to obtain modifications for physical or mental disabilities not listed, like asthma, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That, however, is a separate process.

If your child is eligible for an I.E.P., you will be required to participate in the I.E.P. team meeting (Step 3). The team works to reach agreement about the educational goals and modifications that will be written into the child’s education plan. They also determine the special education services your child will receive.

Once the I.E.P. is written and signed, it is put into action (Step 4) and reviewed annually by the I.E.P. team (Step 5).

Here is more information about the I.E.P. process:

Also, Legal Aid provides a range of education legal services through programs like the Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project (212-577-3342) and Providing Educational Assistance to Kids (718-250-4510). Cara Chambers, (212) 577-3342, can provide more information about the various programs.

Legal Services provides free legal advice and representation.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest provides pro bono representation, legal advice on addressing special education deficiencies and training in special education law.

What conditions will qualify my child for an I.E.P.?

Evaluators must identify your child as having one of the following disabilities for him or her to be eligible for an I.E.P.: autism; deafness; deaf-blindness; emotional disturbance; hearing impairment; mental retardation; learning disability; multiple disabilities; orthopedic impairment; other health impairment, speech or language impairment; or traumatic brain injury or visual impairment, including blindness. Your child may be able to obtain modifications for physical or mental disabilities not listed, like asthma, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

What are some resources that can help me find the right services for my special education child?

Advocates for Children of New York publishes informational guidebooks for parents, provides training and assistance in their Parent Training and Information Center and operates the Jill Chaifetz Educational Helpline — (866) 427-6033 — to answer education-related queries.

Big Apple Oranges provides information about each step of the special education process. It also provides links to other resources and information about lectures, workshops and events.

Developmental Disabilities Planning Council provides access to information that can enable those with developmental disabilities to best engage with their communities and participate in society.

The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities provides information for parents of special needs babies, toddlers, children and young adults. It has also compiled state and national information about special education policy.

On New York City’s Department of Education Web site, the Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners provides links to local resources for parents about enrollment, requirements and mandates; has contact information for relevant department personnel, and has links to relevant news articles.

New York State Office of Special Education oversees special education services and programs for students with disabilities in New York, and provides professional development, assistance and information on education policies affecting special education students.

New York State United Teachers and the New York Congress of Parents and Teachers produced a Guide to Special Education, with general information as well as a glossary, frequently asked questions and resource list.

Parent-to-Parent of New York State connects parents of children with disabilities or special health needs with a “support parent” who has a child with a similar diagnosis, and provides additional assistance through their federally financed Parent Training and Information Centers.

The group Resources for Children with Special Needs, in Manhattan, also helps parents navigate the education process in English, Spanish and Chinese. It provides workshops and has a directory of resources that enables a search based on different type of disability, location, age and language.

Wrightslaw disseminates information about special education policy through online libraries of articles, cases and resources related to special education law and the educational rights of students with disabilities. It also holds seminars and training sessions and provides individual consultations.

Can all schools accommodate my special education child?

As of now, not all schools offer a full range of special education services. The New York City Education Department’s continuum of services, which describes the full range of special education services offered by the school system, ranges from less-restrictive services like reading intervention to more-restrictive services like collaborative team teaching, full-time special classes and home/hospital instruction. Not every service is offered by every school. But the city is now in the process of ensuring that all schools can meet the needs of all students.

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, all school districts are required to provide a “free appropriate public education,” or FAPE, for all of their students. If your child’s zoned school is unable to provide the services he or she needs, it is the school district’s responsibility to place your child in a school that can provide those services and that is as close to your zoned school as possible. If a school district has no school that can accommodate the needs of your child, it is responsible for finding an alternate placement, like a private school, and assuming the financial cost of that placement.

In February 2010 the city’s Education Department set out to increase the capability of all city public schools to provide all services that their students require. According to the D.O.E. report, Special Education Services as Part of a Unified Service Delivery System,” the goal is for all students to be able to attend the schools they would be attending if they did not require special education services. In the 2010-11 school year, more than 260 schools participated in Phase 1 of this initiative.

In September of 2012, the city expanded this initiative to cover all schools. But the main emphasis is on students transitioning into kindergarten, middle school and high school. While charter schools are also expected to meet the special education needs of their students, they are allowed greater creativity in their approach and are not limited to the department’s continuum of services.

How can parents challenge their child’s special education placement?

Parents are key members of the Individualized Education Program or I.E.P. process, and parental consent is required to put an I.E.P. into action. However, if you disagree with the school’s decisions about your child’s special education placement, you have the right to challenge it.

Initially you should raise your concerns with a school staff member, a member of the I.E.P. team or a member of the Committee on Special Education, C.S.E.. If your concerns are still not addressed, you can request mediation by submitting a request in writing to the principal or to the C.S.E. Mediation is free, and the resolutions decided upon in mediation must be reflected in your child’s I.E.P.

You may also file for an Impartial Hearing by following the guidelines within the resources listed here. During an Impartial Hearing you and a representative from the New York City Department of Education will each present your opinions and evidence to an Impartial Hearing Officer, who will ultimately make a written statement about how the issue should be resolved. This decision can be appealed within 30 days.

If you feel that the department has violated special education law, you have the right to file a complaint with the New York State Education Department.

Additional information about the procedures for challenging a special education placement can be found in the Standard Operating Procedures Manual of the city’s Education Department, Special Education in New York State for Children Ages 3-12, a Parents Guide, and Advocates for Children, Guide to Special Education.

When will the New York City Department of Education pay for my special education child to go to private school?

Because children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education under federal law, the Education Department may recommend a nonpublic school program if it is unable to provide the services mandated for your child in his or her Individualized Education Program (I.E.P.). In this case, the Committee on Special Education, or C.S.E., would defer to the Central Based Support Team to help find and pay for an appropriate state-approved private special education school.

The department could also pay for a state-approved private special education school for a child if the parent secured a voucher from the C.S.E. called a “P-1 letter” or a “Nickerson letter.” A P-1 letter could be issued if the child is not receiving the appropriate special education services within the appropriate time frame. If this is the case, the C.S.E. should automatically provide the parent with a list of state-approved private special education schools, and it is then the parent’s responsibility to find one that is appropriate and willing to accept the child. If there is no such school on the list, the C.S.E. must provide an alternative placement.

A third way to receive private special education school financing is to seek reimbursement or pre-imbursement for the tuition of an independent special education private school. An independent special education private school is one that is not approved by the state, and therefore it cannot be recommended or paid for by the government. To receive payment for an independent special education private school, the parent must file for an impartial hearing and prove that the city’s Department of Education failed to provide the child with a “free and appropriate education,” or FAPE, which is a federally protected right. If the parent already paid the tuition and is seeking reimbursement, he or she would need a “Carter” or “reimbursement” hearing. If the parent persuaded the outside school to matriculate the child without paying the tuition upfront on the condition that he or she would file for an impartial hearing with the department, the parent would need a “Connors” or “pre-imbursement” hearing. Either way, it is recommended that the parent have an attorney or advocate present.

More information about this topic can be obtained from the
Advocates for Children: Guide to Special Education, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Inc. Special Education’s Fact Sheet, and two New York Times articles: “Fighting Over When Public Should Pay Private Tuition for Disabled” and “With Justices Split, City Must Pay Disabled Student’s Tuition.

These answers were researched, reported and written by Jessica Campbell and Beth Fertig. To correct, improve or enhance an answer, e-mail schoolbook@wnyc.org.