In this column, special education lawyer and advocate Regina Skyer will address reader’s questions and concerns regarding their child’s special education needs, as well as the services, programs and entitlements available within New York City. She asks readers to send their questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on how the column works, click here.
I recently received a question from a woman who is very worried about her upcoming initial review with New York City’s Committee on Preschool Special Education.
Her child has an autism spectrum diagnosis, so she believes he needs to be learning both at home and at school during his preschool years. The child has been accepted to a therapeutic preschool that she wants him to attend. However, she is also hoping for ten hours per week of afterschool speech and occupational therapy services. This client has heard, through the robust NYC parent grapevine, that this type of dual program is no longer available, and that the CPSE will not recommend it. What can she do?
Firstly, this woman’s worry is justified. I, too, have heard through the rumor mill that the CPSE is no longer recommending preschool services in both school and home, although I have yet to see a formal directive issued by CPSE to that effect. If any of my readers have seen a written directive or memo from the New York City Department of Education about this, please send it to me at email@example.com.
Historically, New York City CPSE was unrivaled in offering the most comprehensive special education programs and related services for children who met eligibility requirements and qualified as “preschoolers with disabilities.” It was not uncommon for children to be placed and funded in full-day (25 hours per week) special education pre-schools and, on top of this, receive additional special education and/or related services after school.
In recent years, the DOE has been cutting back on the number of home hours they are willing to provide to a student who is attending a full day center-based program. I have heard the same rumor that by the next school year the NYC DOE simply will not recommend any home hours at all in addition to a school program. Clearly, the determination is being made based on financial reasons, which the DOE has a right to do. But it doesn’t mean that a parent can’t fight for home hours and possibly get them.
What I recommend in these instances: if your child needs home hours, and this need is supported by the experts and professionals in his or her life, go to your CPSE review armed and prepared. The committee will hear your opinion, but your opinion alone will not result in this type of recommendation. Written reports, evaluations and testimony by your child’s evaluators, therapists and teachers are critical. The argument to be made when fighting for this is twofold: (1) that your child is unable to carry over to the community and home what he is being taught in school and (2) that your child needs the continuity of additional services after school in order to not regress between the time he leaves school one day and returns on the next. Without these services, you will claim, he or she will be unable to make reasonable school progress. Again, strong documentation and expert testimony is critical.
If you cannot get your CPSE administer to agree to this at the review meeting and you do not want to jeopardize your preschool placement, here’s what I suggest: accept your pre-school placement, but make your position known that you disagree with the denial of a home program, carefully state the reasons why and then immediately see an attorney. This is something that can be appealed in what is called a “due process impartial hearing,” but at that point it will need to be handled by an attorney who practices in this area of law.
The generalized nature of this column is not to be taken as legal advice, and can never substitute for a consultation with an attorney.
Regina Skyer started her career as a social worker in 1973, working in a clinical capacity in the field of special education. She was one of the founders and directors of Summit Camp and Travel, the City Lights Social Program, City Lights Supportive Apartments and Skyer Consultation Center. She co-authored the book, “What Do You Do After High School: The Nationwide Guide to Services and Programs for Learning Disabled Students.” She entered law school in 1988 with the sole purpose of becoming a fierce advocate and litigator for “her kids.” Ms. Skyer’s firm is the largest in New York City that handles special education matters.