Join the Skyer Law team this Sunday, October 19th in Central Park as we participate in the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk! Look for our team "Sky's The Limit" and visit our home page: Making Strides - Sky's The Limit
We'd love you to walk with us, but if not we hope you support this worthwhile cause.
On August 20th our office filed notices in cases seeking tuition reimbursement for private school placement. As of today, the DOE has responded to 80 percent of these notices, recommending settlement in 60 percent of the cases. We are told that the remaining 20 percent where we have not had a response are still being reviewed by DOE lawyers. This is the first year since 1993 when the Supreme Court issued the landmark Carter decision that the city is recommending tuition reimbursement based solely on the required 10 day notices. We are calling this “fast tracking.” I refer you back to my Blog of August 20th which summarizes this new fast track policy: Follow up Re: Mayor's New Policy
In cases where settlement has been recommended, negotiations between our paralegals and the Department of Education paralegals are already underway. We have been in touch with all the private schools and we are also asking parents to provide us with documents.
On the cases where we are told that the DOE is not “fast tracking” settlements, we are now drafting and filing detailed Hearing Requests. Once these hearing requests are filed the Department of Education will review them and determine whether to recommend settlement or proceed to impartial hearing. Our hearing requests are extremely detailed and legally nuanced and we are optimistic that in most cases settlement will be recommended.
This is all good news and we are happy that the policy initiative put in place by Mayor de Blasio is actually being implemented. Stay tuned and we’ll continue to keep you posted.
Many of you have been emailing and calling asking for an update on the Mayor’s June 24th Policy Memorandum on Special Education Settlements. Well, here’s the news hot off the press: on August 14th the DOE’s Office of General Counsel held a meeting with lawyers and advocates practicing in this area. The important “take aways” from this meeting are as follows:
1. The DOE will absolutely continue to litigate cases where they believe a student has been offered a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). This is the same as it has always been.
2. The biggest change will be that when we file our Notices of Unilateral Placement (this year they are being filed on August 20th) the DOE will consider settlement only under the following conditions:
a. The parent prevailed in a prior year at an impartial hearing, and the DOE did not appeal this decision and it concerned the same placement;
b. There was a settlement the prior year for the same placement and circumstances;
c. When a student is entering a “terminal grade in a school” that the DOE has previously funded (good for all you 8th graders at Gaynor, and seniors at MMFS, WP, RLS, EH, Windward, etc.)
3. The changes in the payment process when the DOE does recommend settlement should be the most dramatic change. When the DOE agrees to settle a case they will finalize the settlement/negotiation process within 90 days of making a determination to settle a case and begin to pay out on these cases 30 days after this. This will help most parents who find themselves in a difficult cash flow position.
4. For students first entering the DOE/CSE system, and for those turning five students leaving CPSE and entering CSE, nothing has changed. The new policy will not effect your case this year. Accordingly, we will file Notices for you on August 20th and between September and November we will file hearing requests. For this group of students settlement offers will only be made after the filing of an impartial hearing request.
5. Any notice that was filed earlier than August 20th, meaning for our 12 month students, this policy will not apply. Hearing requests must be filed and our offices will do these between September 4th through 11th. The good news is that once the hearing request is filed 12 month students will be considered under the expedited settlement process.
Your team at Skyer Law has been meeting continuously about this new policy. Our decision is to write extremely detailed notices, giving the DOE enough information to push them towards a settlement. This year’s notices are akin to any hearing request filed in years past. We are filing these notices on August 20th and we’ll update you again as soon as there’s more information.
Enjoy these last hazy, crazy days of summer – Regina and Company
BUSING BLOG FOUR – HOW TO FIND YOUR BUS ROUTE AND WHAT TO EXPECT
If your child is known to the DOE and has a nine digit NYC ID number, here is how you will know if your child has been assigned a route. At the end of August, you can check the OPT website: found here. Scroll down on the homepage and you will see “Find Your Child’s Bus Route.” You will need your child’s NYC ID and birth date to search for their route. You will also receive a letter from OPT at the end of August with your child’s bus route, the route’s start time, your child’s pick-up and drop-off number (meaning how many kids will be picked up before your child and how many will be dropped off before him/her), and the name and phone number of the bus company responsible for your child’s route. This is useful information because it will give you a sense of how many kids are on the route, an idea of how long your child will be on the bus and contact information for the bus company that will be transporting your child.
A word of caution here: The routes are always a mess at the start of the school year! Be prepared for that. Try not to panic when you see that the route starts at 6:15 or 6:30 in the morning. In many cases, once the route starts and the driver gets a hang of it, the pick-up time will shift later. You can call the bus company (the phone number will be on the letter from OPT) to find out what time your child should be ready to be picked up on the first day. Many parents choose not to put their child on the bus for the first few days until the driver becomes familiar with the route. You can also check OPT’s website to see whether your child has been assigned to a route.
Once your child has been assigned a route, the aggravation doesn’t necessarily end. Drivers and matrons vary but, for the most part, they care about the kids and take their jobs very seriously. It is in your best interest to establish a good relationship with your driver and matron. They will be very important people in your lives! Most of them will give you their cell phones numbers so that you can be in direct contact if you know your child won’t be riding the bus one day or if they know that they will be running late. When you do run into a problem, contact OPT to file a complaint (718-392-8855) and make sure your child’s school does the same thing. For example, if the kids are consistently getting to school late.
For the most part, once the routes get set after the first few weeks of school, most kids really enjoy their ride to school and meet kids from other grades that they may not know otherwise. So hang in there!
BUSING BLOG THREE – TRANSPORTATION FOR CHILDREN WITH AN IEP THAT DOES NOT RECOMMEND FULL TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION
If you had a CSE/IEP meeting but your child’s recommendation was for ICT or General Ed with SETTS, or you did not have a meeting, or they found your child to be non-handicapped, although you now have the nine digit NYC ID number, you are not automatically entitled to a bus route. In this situation, the process of securing a bus route is more difficult. In our office, we will request busing for all of our clients who need it, in our August Notices to the DOE. Sometimes as a result of this request, the child will be placed in the OPT system and routed on a bus. However, this is not an entitlement. Any family that is in the process of having their child attend a private special education school must use an attorney or seasoned advocate to help them. The transportation is part of this process and we advise all parents to start planning for this well in advance of the school year.
Another and often time overlooked way of getting a bus route for a child who does not qualify by virtue of the program recommendation is if a parent can establish a medical reason why their child needs door to door transportation.
If you cannot secure busing through the DOE, be sure to keep records of the cost of transporting your child to and from school and speak with your attorney about including this in your impartial hearing request for tuition reimbursement.
BUS ROUTES FOR CHILDREN WITH AN IEP AND A FULL TIME SPECIAL EDUCATION RECOMMENDATION
Once your child has a New York City ID number, the question becomes how to get this number into OPT’s system so that s/he can be on a bus to and from their private special education school. There is not one easy answer because each case is unique to each student. Here are some helpful guidelines.
For children who are entering the DOE system for the first time and have an IEP that recommends a full-time special education program (12:1:1, District 75, defer to CBST), that child is automatically entitled to busing. In this situation his or her nine digit NYC ID number should be sent to OPT by the District Representative who ran your child’s CSE/IEP meeting. My suggestion is that at the end of the CSE/IEP meeting, ask for the email and telephone number of the district representative. Do not tell them that this is to arrange for busing to a private school. Remember at this meeting you are open to considering all placement recommendations – which means both private and public. Simply get this person’s contact information for any further questions you may have.
What happens next can be either that the private school enters your child’s NYC ID number into the OPT system for a bus route, if they are permitted to do so, or the district will do this once they get Notice that your child will be attending a private school. Notice will be the subject of another blog, but for now, suffice it to say that Notices are filed in late August and that’s when bus routes start to get sorted out. At the end of August, you can check the OPT website to see if your child has been assigned a bus route: schools.nyc.gov/offices/transportation/default.htm. If not, I recommend that you contact the district representative to assure that this has been done. This might even mean going down to the CSE with the IEP that has a full time special education recommendation. Be prepared to camp out at the district for hours to accomplish this! Also, make sure to have a back-up plan in case transportation is delayed which can happen for a variety of reasons.
If a child is recommended for a full time special education program and your district or private school is not able to get the child on the bus, speak with your attorney or advocate. In some situations this can give rise to a claim for reimbursement for the cost of your transporting your child to and from school.
Busing tends to be a source of worry and concern for many parents at the start of the school year. Even if you are a veteran to the world of special education, making sure that your child is on the correct bus and has a reasonable route to and from school is an important consideration in making school a successful experience. The next series of blogs will explain how the transportation system works and assist you in getting this needed service, or help you make alternate plans.
The Office of Pupil Transportation (“OPT”) is the office at the Department of Education (“DOE”) responsible for assigning and routing school busses. For a child to be assigned a bus route, OPT must have the child’s nine digit NYC ID number in their system. Sometimes this number is still referred to by its old name as “OSIS” number. This number is assigned to all children registered with and known to the DOE. If a child has never attended a public school or has never received services through the Committee on Special Education (“CSE”) or the Committee on Pre-School Special Education (“CPSE”), s/he will not have an ID number and have absolutely no right to a bus. This is always the case when a child is coming out of a private school and there has never been any contact with the DOE concerning this child. If your child does not have a DOE NYC ID number and you want a DOE bus or a metro card for your child, the first order of business is to get this number assigned to your child. If you are working with an attorney or advocate, they should start working on this with you. If you are doing this on your own, either go to your local public school and register your child and get a number or write to your CSE for an evaluation and a review, and a number will be assigned.
Dear Clients and Members of the Special Education Community,
I am writing in response to yesterday’s announcement by Mayor de Blasio entitled: “New Steps to Help Families of Students with Disabilities.” I have spoken with my counterparts at the Department of Education to get their understanding of this new policy and how it will be implemented. They are uncertain but clearly everyone at the DOE is talking about how to implement this. The policy is scheduled to go into effect September 1st and certainly could impact tuition reimbursement cases for the 2014-2105 school year. I will now distill this new plan and help you understand how it might apply to your child and your case.
The one line “tweet” on this is that the new policy is going to fast track cases where there is sufficient reason for the DOE to recommend a settlement. It is not an open check book nor is it a benefit program available to anyone who wants it!
As many of you know, the first step in the process of seeking tuition reimbursement requires filing with the DOE a Notice of Intent to Unilaterally Place. This notice has to be sent ten days prior to a parent placing a child in a private special education school/program. In our office we do this on behalf of our clients, and submit individual notices on each child to each school district. This year the notices are due on August 20th. Our staff has already begun writing the notices and we want to make them as strong as possible so that they can trigger a determination to settle. In order for us to effectively do this please return your retainer, the client questionnaire and notes from your CSE review, if you had one, and any school visit information you might have made. Please email to us your most recent IEP, placement notice and any current evaluations you have.
Here is where the new policy becomes very helpful. The DOE is now obligated to review the notices within 15 days of receipt. If the notice can convince the DOE to settle the case, the entire hearing process which can take months can be skipped over and the case moves right into settlement negotiations and processing payments. We are not sure how the DOE will implement this, but our read on this is that they are now obligated to do this and will have to hire staff or reassign staff to assist in this process. For the 2014-2015 school year, notices are due by August 20th. Because the policy is scheduled to be implemented on September 1st, we are unsure of how this will effect for the current school year. I have asked this question to the DOE, but have not received an answer.
There are other features of the policy which we are hoping will mean an increase in settlements for parents. For example, if a child’s case has settled in past years and the same recommendation is being made then the case should settle, according to our read of policy statement issued by Mayor de Blasio. Additionally, if a child is about to enter the final grade of a school (which applies most specifically to seniors in high school) the case should settle as well. Again, we all have wait and see how this plays out, but we are anticipating that the number of impartial hearings will be drastically reduced as a result of this new policy.
The section of the policy that deals with reduced paperwork is very unclear and we are awaiting clarification from the DOE.
The bottom line answer to everyone’s question is: YES, this is good news, possibly great news for parents of special needs children. It can be even better news for parents who do not have the means to pursue tuition reimbursement year in year out, and are suffering great hardships from the DOE’s untimely delays in payment. However, it does not mean that parents are relieved from fully cooperating with the CSE, attending all meetings, visiting any program recommended, and providing the district with their evaluations and reports or making their child available for testing.
We at Skyer Law are continuing to work diligently on your behalf and will keep you updated as this policy unfolds and becomes viable.
Best Regards from all of us for a good summer –