Navigating Disagreements with Early Intervention

By Magda Labonté and Eliyanna Kaiser

Getting an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP) for an infant or toddler isn’t usually as contentious as the process for preschool and school-age children can sometimes be, but there are times when a parent strongly disagrees with something Early Intervention (EI) decides or when a child experiences an unacceptable gap in services. 

Our office represents parents who are at loggerheads with EI. It can be valuable to consult with an attorney while considering the best strategy for exercising your due process rights. Some tactics may produce better outcomes.

A common problem we are asked about arises when a parent disagrees with a proposed IFSP (in part or whole). We also hear from many parents about unacceptable delays in the provision of services (no more than 30 calendar days after signing consent to initiate is the law). Other situations that pop up include when a child needs a new service that EI is refusing to provide; when an IFSP provides for a service, but not enough of it; or when a parent’s request to modify an IFSP in some other way is denied.

In all of these situations, the first step is to express your concerns to your service coordinator. They may be able to resolve some problems.  If your service coordinator isn’t responsive, or you don’t feel they are doing their job properly, you can switch service coordinators (and agencies) at any time. You also have the right to file a “system complaint” against your service coordinator and anyone else who works for EI, including service providers, evaluators, and the Early Intervention Official (administrator) assigned to your child’s case. For more information, see the NYS Department of Health’s publication, Early Intervention Steps: A Parent’s Basic Guide to the Early Intervention Program.

There are, of course, some problems that even the most dedicated service coordinator will be unable to fix. In those situations, you have due process rights. You have both the right to request mediation or to file an impartial hearing request. If you retain an attorney, you will not be able to recover legal fees unless you go through mediation first. 

Some parents decide to privately obtain services through independent providers and then file an impartial hearing request seeking reimbursement. Lawyers may recommend that parents obtain private evaluations to support their claims in these (and other) cases. 

Early Intervention is designed to provide services at a time when your child will receive a tremendous benefit. Don’t let disagreements interfere with this; this critical period will be over in the blink of an eye.

Action Needed: ‘Special Education Waiver’ in Draft NYS Budget

Advocates for Children put out an important action alert yesterday in response to the 2017-18 draft executive budget. The draft budget includes a provision that allows local school districts to apply to the state for a waiver from state laws that protect the rights of special education students. (Advocates for Children’s full response to the draft budget is available on their website.)

Advocates for Children urges New Yorkers who care about special education to contact both their State Senator and State Assembly Member and express opposition to the special education waiver in the governor’s draft budget. You can find contact information for your State Assembly Member at and your State Senator at

Below is Advocates for Children’s sample script for your call. When you contact your elected officials, always make sure to say that you are a constituent residing in their district. Provide your residential address to the person who takes your call or in any voicemail message you leave or any email you send. This is how legislators know that you are a potential voter whose concerns they should be responsive to.

Sample script:

My name is [your name] and I am a [parent of a student with a disability/teacher/concerned constituent]. I am calling regarding the state budget. I want to make sure the budget does not include the special education waiver in Governor Cuomo's budget proposal. The special education waiver would allow school districts to take away important rights for students with disabilities, and I hope you will reject this proposal. Thank you.

DOE Affirms Its Commitment to Protecting the Rights of Immigrant Students

There is a lot of uncertainty right now about national immigration policy. On January 30th, the NYC Department of Education sent home a letter from Chancellor Fariña affirming the city’s commitment to protecting the rights of students.  

Among other commitments, the DOE spells out that its longstanding policy is to neither ask about nor keep a record of the immigration status of a student or their family. While children with IEPs may have their national origin or when they moved noted as part of their original or updated social histories, no information about their immigration status—even if voluntarily disclosed to a social worker or evaluator—should appear in the social history, IEP, or any other document.

The DOE has also promised not to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials access to schools without first demonstrating proper legal authority for being there. This stops short of noncooperation, as some advocates quoted in Chalkbeat would prefer

The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe guarantees that all children have a right to an elementary and secondary education, regardless of immigration status. New York City is going one step further, and the DOE is referring families who need free immigration assistance to ActionNYC.

Testing Accommodations for SAT and Other College Board Exams Just Got Easier

As of January 1st, the vast majority of high school students who have testing accommodations on their IEP or as part of a 504 plan will automatically be approved for identical accommodations when writing College Board exams like the SAT, PSAT, SAT subject tests, and AP exams. Private school students with disabilities who don’t have an IEP or 504 plan will receive identical testing accommodations to their formal school-based plans.

According to the College Board:

Under this new policy, school testing accommodation coordinators need to answer only two questions when submitting most requests for students: “Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan?” and “Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?” If the answer is yes to both questions, eligible students can be approved to receive most accommodations on College Board exams. This new process is expected to reduce the approval time for an overwhelming majority of accommodation requests.

The College Board is also introducing new assistive technologies to meet a variety of testing accommodation needs. A digital test, delivered on a flash drive, is now available for screen readers and other assistive technology devices. An MP3 test (replacing the cassette test form) allows students who need to listen to a test to do so. And a four-function calculator can now be provided to students who need one on the Math Test sections that otherwise don’t permit use of a calculator.

These changes came after the Justice Department began investigating the College Board for civil rights violations last year. More and more states had adopted the SAT or ACT as a required test for high school students and the Civil Rights Division had seen a sharp uptick in complaints about the slow, laborious process for documenting a student’s disability and approving the testing accommodations needed. 

Please note that the College Board’s SSD portal has not been updated to reflect these changes. For more information, please see the College Board’s webpage on this topic.

City Councilmembers Tell Mayor to Honor His Commitments to Special Education Families

Our advocacy is having an impact!

Last fall, we reported to you again and again and again about our efforts to make sure that outstanding tuition reimbursement payments, promised in writing by the city, were paid to our clients. Some of you called into radio shows. Others wrote to their elected officials. And, as your attorneys, we called and sent weekly memos to the Department of Education, regularly reminding them about the status of outstanding stipulations from 2015-16.

Frustrated by the serious delays impacting our clients, in December we reached out to City Council Education Committee Chair Daniel Dromm and two longtime friends of special education families, Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Daniel Garodnick from Manhattan. We asked them to co-author a letter to the Mayor asking him to honor the commitments he made in his 2014 Special Education Initiative, in which he promised to reduce the burden on families of special education students by, among other things, expediting tuition reimbursements when the city decides to settle a case with a parent.

We are thrilled to report that Councilmembers Dromm, Kallos, and Garodnick sent a strongly worded letter to Mayor De Blasio on Friday, asking him to honor the commitments his administration has made to special needs families. We are very grateful to our elected officials for taking this action on behalf of our client families.