On Aug.1, the city launched a hotline for parents of students with special needs in preparation for the roll-out of special education reform in all schools in September. Speaking on the WNYC Brian Lehrer program, Education Department Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suranksky said the helpline was set up with the support of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and is designed to answer parents' specific questions. Parents may call 718-935-2007 or 311 to access the hotline.
For in-person help, office hours have been set up at nine DOE offices in the five boroughs; some sites are open until 7 p.m. and there are weekend hours too, although everywhere. The office hours began July 31 and go through Sept. 27, according to the schedule posted online.
Families may need all the help they can get, given that Corinne Rello-Anselmi, the new head of special education at the DOE, told parents at a meeting in July that she expected the roll-out to be very rocky." She also said she stands by the reforms as necessary in "setting a fully inclusive environment for all kids."
Special education advocate Maggie Moroff of the ARISE Coalition and Advocates for Children, says she firmly supports the goals of the reform, but, like many others, she has concerns about how changes will be implemented.
"A dedicated hotline is great," she said. "But what happens when families call the hotline is critical. I don't know the skill level of the specialists and I don't know how much authority they have."
Moroff said that many parents are concerned that their children won't get all the services they need. "Can the [DOE specialists] call the schools and can they work it out then and there?The real question is whether they can make a difference."
Approximately 16 percent of public schools students require special education services, the majority of whom have learning disabilities, said Polakow-Suransky. The "reform is targeting kids that don't need intensive support," he said, noting there are special schools and programs for kids with severe disabilities which will remain intact. The reforms will primarily affect students just now entering the city's school system, or beginning a new school level, such as kindergarten, middle school and high school, he said.
Click here to hear a broadcast of the 14-minute segment.
We'd lilke to hear from parents of special education students. Have you contacted the hotline or gone to one of the centers? Did you get the answers you needed? Comment below.
(Post updated on Aug. 8 .)