Updated 5:30 p.m. There will be a strike of the drivers and matrons of yellow school buses beginning on Wedneseday, the head of the union which represents the bus drivers announced late Monday afternoon. Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Sunday issued guidelines for parents on what to do if school buses stopped running. Marni Goltsman, the mom of a child with autism, says the bus drivers and matrons on her son's buses have been unfailingly professional and courteous and don't deserve a pay cut. This post appeared on her blog Capturing Autism.
Since pre-K, my son’s New York City school bus drivers and matrons have always been professional, punctual, and polite. This year, every morning as Brooks boards his yellow minibus, I watch the matron help him with his seat belt, and I know that she and the driver will look out for him because they understand that he can’t always speak up for himself. They both have years of experience with special needs busing, and because of that, my husband and I can wave goodbye to Brooks comforted by the fact that he feels safe and is in good hands.
I could go on indefinitely about the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the Office of Pupil Transportation when it comes to setting up routes and travel times, but our experience of the drivers and matrons in the field has always been positive.
The Education Department announced the start of the selection process for the city's Community Education Councils and vows to run the bi-annual elections more smoothly this spring. They could hardly be worse than the last elections in 2011, parent leaders say.
Two years ago, the Community Education Council elections were fraught with SNAFUs and confusion. Some qualified candidates’ names were mysteriously left off ballots and parents were unable to log on to a website to vote in the election’s first round.
“It was chaos and total disaster because the DOE didn’t do proper outreach,” said Shino Tanikawa, the president of District 2’s CEC.
The process was such a mess that even schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott admitted it was mismanaged and ordered a do-over.
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs will co-host a conversation with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on the future of schools in New York City.
Quinn will discuss her vision for "building a 21st century school system," including college and career readiness. She will also participate in a Q & A with Insideschools' founder and senior editor, Clara Hemphill. This event is one of a series of events with potential 2013 mayoral candidates sponsored by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. (See a write-up of a 2012 event with mayoral hopeful Tom Allon here.)
Quinn also spoke about city education policy, along with other potential mayoral candidates, at a GothamSchools event in November. See a rundown of that event here.
The Jan. 15 forum will be at The New School, at 65 West 11th Street, from 8:30 am to 10 am. Tickets are free but you must reserve a seat; RSVP here: http://strongerschools.eventbrite.com/. Do it soon! It's a small venue and seats are going fast.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott will launch the long-awaited Parent Academy this Saturday at Long Island University (LIU) in Brooklyn, with a focus on aiding families who are victims of the hurricane. But, in the aftermath of the storm, it's not clear how many parents actually know about the event or will be able to attend.
In an email invitation sent to parent leaders on Tuesday morning, Jesse Mojica, head of the DOE's Division of Family and Community Engagement, said that Hurricane Sandy made plain the need for the community to come together at this workshop and, "identify the opportunities and resources for not only student success, but also those outlets for aid in the midst of Hurricane Sandy."
The workshop begins with an 8:30 a.m. breakfast and is open to public school parents, administrators and staff. The DOE and LIU, a partner in the Parent Academy, will provide guidance to help families apply for FEMA and other sources of disaster aid. Mental health experts will advise teachers and parents on how to deal with students affected by the disaster. Additionally, there will be three sessions at the workshop to tackle specific topics: preparing for parent teacher conferences, supporting better parent-teacher communication and, "how to become a more active and engaged participant in your child’s education,"said Stephanie Browne, a DOE spokesperson.
Is your child getting the speech, occupational, vision or other therapy she needs this year?
Parents on the Citywide Council for Special Education (CCSE) have been hearing from families whose children are not getting the “related services” they require and they are asking parents to take a survey to get feedback about the problem.
Related services include physical therapy, occupational therapy, vision, speech, hearing, behavioral and assistive technology. They are provided by Department of Education staff or by contracted agencies. If there is a shortage of providers, the DOE is supposed to issue, within 13 days, an authorization - RSA - to parents allowing them to use an independent provider.
Yet, near the end of October, many children of all ages and types of schools, still lack needed services, according to the CCSE and other special education advocates.
"We're definitely still seeing cases," said Maggie Moroff, special education coordinator at Advocates for Children. She said the delay in services may be attributed, in part, to the DOE's change last summer to contracting with outside agencies rather than hiring service providers directly. "They did it with no notice. It got rolled out badly – there was no communication with parents about what was different and how things got changed."
In a statement, the CCSE said they hoped the collected data will identify why related services are not being performed, whether it is
"due to a shortage of therapists in a related field such as speech and language, OT, PT ... confined to a specific borough or District(s) or perhaps, a function of a more systemic problem unrelated to the therapists and specialists who work with children in need of services."
Families whose children have IEPs can take the survey here.
The number of overcrowded special education classes has more than doubled in the last year, according to a new United Federation of Teacher's survey of the city's public schools. As of mid-September, there were 270 overcrowded special education classes -- that's up from 118 last year, the UFT announced Tuesday in a press release. But in some schools, classes for special needs kids are severely under-enrolled, advocates say.
UFT president Michael Mulgrew linked the drastic spike in overcrowded special education classes to a new policy, which demands that schools accept and accomodate most students with special needs.
The reform has had the opposite effect in some schools, according to Maggie Moroff, special education coordinator at Advocates for Children, with neighborhood schools creating self-contained special education classes for just a few students. "Those classes aren't fully populated," says Moroff, and since children must stay in their zones, there is no one else to fill those seats.
While a city contract with the UFT sets class size limits for general education classes at 25 students in kindergarten, 32 in grades 1-6 and 30 to 34 in middle and high school, special education class size depends on the student's Individual Education Program, or IEP. Those class size limits are regulated by the state. Kids with special needs may be in classes of 8, 12 or 15 students in a self-contained (non-mainstream) class. Or they may be placed in a co-taught class with general and special education students and two teachers.
Moroff says the city needs a waiver from the state to have overcrowded special education classes. She encourages families with children in over- or under-enrolled special education classes to contact AFC - it is possible to challenge a child's placement or file a complaint with the state, depending on the issue.
(Ed note: article updated 12:00 pm, 9/27/12)
After four years of blogging for Insideschools about the challenges of finding an appropriate education for her autistic son, Marni launched her own blog about daily family life, with autism thrown into the mix.
Marni's posts are always funny and heartfelt. (Now, I wonder what she would have to say about today's news: overcrowded special ed classrooms in the age of "reform"?)
The special education reform rolled out in all schools this fall is very much "a work in progress," according to two prominent experts: Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children (AFC) and Maggie Moroff, of AFC and the the ARISE Coalition.
The reform's goal of educating disabled children in their neighborhood schools is laudable, write the two in an article for City Limits, but now the emphasis must shift to accountability and ensuring that children's needs are actually being met in the schools that enrolled them.
Sweet and Moroff call upon the Education Department to do three things. First, provide intensive, ongoing, elbow to elbow support and training to school staff working with special needs children. Second, come up with an immediate plan to better inform parents about the reform and give families guidance on what to do if their school lacks "the expertise or capacity to meet their children's needs." Third, publicly report the successes and failures of the reform's first phase - two years in 260 pilot schools. What were the best practices? What was the impact of the reform at those schools?
Read the article "On Special Ed, School Dept. Must do its Homework" in City Limits.
There are more students with special needs than ever attending Brooklyn's highly sought-after Christa McAuliffe middle school, but poor outreach has left one-third of the available seats unfilled.
The empty seats will not be filled this year, Education Department officials said.
The school let several general education teachers go in preparation for the creation of two Integrated Co-Teaching classes, in which general and special education students learn side by side with two teachers, one of whom is licensed to teach special education students. There were only enough special ed students to create one of the ICT classes. Nonetheless, the school is not offering Spanish to 6th graders this year and some art classes have been cut, parents said.
The problem was not a lack of interest among families of children with disabilities. Students applying to Christa McAuliffe, also known as IS 187, must take the OLSAT exam, which was administered in December. But parents were not informed of the special needs enrollment option until January. As a result, the school had fewer applications from special education students than the 25-30 seats that the DOE targeted. It got 4,000 applications for just 300 general education seats in 2010.
The beginning of a new school year can be exciting -- and confusing. Some very helpful information is now available for families of students with disabilities. A new fact sheet from Advocates for Children is online in both English and Spanish.
It covers a range of issues that often crop up at the beginning of school, including:
For many children with special needs, the start of school will be a smooth process, but if it's not, you can get in touch with Advocates for Children for advice and assistance. Their help line at (866) 427-6033 is staffed Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.