Education

Students With Disabilities Are Being Left Behind By New York City Schools

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As many as 40 percent of New York City schoolchildren with disabilities are not receiving the services they need and deserve, according to a new report released this week.

The New York City Department of Education released these findings in compliance with a law passed by City Council last year that calls for greater oversight of the department’s data administration. The report found that 35 percent of students in the school system with disabilities — more than 60,000 students in total — were not receiving the entirety of the services recommended to them by education professionals. Five percent of that population, nearly 9,000 students, were not receiving any of the services the school district determined they needed.

Additionally, the report found that 30 percent of students who were slated for initial Individualized Education Plan (IEP) evaluations were not reviewed within 60 days, which is mandated by New York state law.

Why is this happening? Poor data management has a lot to do with it. The report highlighted “major deficiencies” in the implementation of the Special Education Student Information System, which is supposed to keep track of information vital to students with special needs.

According to the New York Times, the Department of Education said that its database is so bad that it could not determine the exact number of students not receiving the services they need. Furthermore, a second data system containing course labels is causing confusion concerning the number of students receiving help. The current system of tracking special education student services was implemented during the Bloomberg administration, and cost the city $130 million.

In response to the data management failures, there may be financial missteps. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James sued the Department of Education last month, arguing that the failures not only deprived students of needed services, but also resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost Medicaid funding, since the city was unable to accurately document its special education efforts.

However, shoddy computer systems are certainly not the only reason these students are finding themselves without the care and support they deserve, and this issue is not confined to the halls of New York City public schools. During and after the recession, school districts across the country laid off support staff and special education professionals crucial to fostering the well-being of special needs students. For example, in October of 2011, New York City sent pink slips to 700 employees, many of whom were support staff for special education services in the neediest areas of the city.

The city is planning to address the database infrastructure problem. Department of Education spokesman Harry Hartfield told the New York Times that resolving the city’s computer system failures is a “top priority of the administration,” and he did note that $7.5 million was added to this year’s budget for the purpose of hiring more school psychologists and social workers, with the hope of ameliorating the illegal evaluation delays.

Bryan Dewan is an intern at ThinkProgress.