Ruling Determines That Department of Education Did Not Provide Enough Support for Special Needs Students
White Plains, NY (Law Firm Newswire) January 5, 2014 - A ruling from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) said that the New York City Department of Education (DOE) failed to provide students with disabilities with proper evaluation and support for behavioral issues.
The ruling affirms a complaint made by the organization Advocates for Children of New York, which works to protect the right to education for high-risk students.
The decision by the NYSED requires the DOE to use Behavior Intervention Plans and Functional Behavior Assessments, which by law are required to support special needs students. The decision means that the DOE will be required to enforce existing support laws for students with disabilities.
The ruling comes at a time when the DOE has been criticized for high suspension rates for special needs students. According to DOE data, students with disabilities are being suspended at a higher rate than students without them. Critics pointed out that suspensions result in missed school time, and are therefore an ineffective response to behavior issues that may be rooted in a disability.
Despite the fact that students with disabilities account for about 16 percent of the student population in New York City, during the 2010-11 school year they accounted for just over 31 percent of the suspensions, more than 23,000 suspensions total. In at least 34 city schools, there were more suspensions of students with disabilities than of those without disabilities.
In suspensions of longer than 10 days, the law requires school officials to take into account whether students' disabilities are affecting their behavior. Advocates for children with disabilities say that options such as mediation and counseling are alternatives to suspension, and should be considered and used more often for special needs students.
A DOE spokesperson said that ensuring schools offer proper supports for special needs students is a top priority, and that combining available supports with professional development and training is the preferred way to deal with behavioral issues. According to the DOE, suspension rates have decreased for all students and are down 19 percent for special needs students compared to 2012.
The NYC DOE is the largest school system in the United States, with 1,700 schools serving more than 1.1 million students. The department is run by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
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