Still A Tale of Two Cities

          Despite Mayor de Blasio’s 2014 policy to fast track tuition reimbursement cases, delays persist.  As Skyer Law senior partner, Jesse Cutler, pointed out in a recent interview with the online education news organization, Chalkbeat, “There are cases that have definitely not met the timeline the mayor set forth.” 

          In our representation of more than 1,000 clients a year, comprising students with a wide spread of special education needs, we see firsthand the financial, and emotional, strain that this drawn-out process places on families. 

          We advocate aggressively on each client’s behalf, and will continue to voice our concerns to both the mayor and the comptroller.  We encourage you to do the same, and invite you to
read the entire Chalkbeat article.  

Transgender Student Guidelines

         Applying Special Ed Law to Transgender Student Discrimination

 

          While it is incredibly important to stress that transgender status is in no way a disability, there is certainly an overlapping need to advocate on behalf of both transgender students and those with special education needs in order to ensure a safe academic environment.  

          In fact, according to a survey conducted by the national Human Rights Campaign organization, 78% of transgender students report harassment in school, 31% report physical assault, and 12% report sexual violence.  Moreover, 32% of transgender students report having experienced harassment from a teacher. 

 

          Here, within Skyer Law, we have also seen a steady uptick in complaints of bullying of transgender students.  In these instances, we employ the same zealous client advocacy – for those with special education needs, or those dealing with gender identity issues – whose academic development has been impacted by this type of negative and inappropriate school environment.  

 

          The NYC Department of Education does provide Transgender Student Guidelines which include directives that students participate in gender-segregated activities with their self-identified peers, and utilize the rest room and locker room facility that aligns with their gender identity.  In addition, the policy advises that students are called by the name and pronoun corresponding to their gender identity, and requires that schools take steps to ensure that a student’s transgender status remains confidential if so requested.  Of course, as with all DOE policies, these directives are only effective if properly implemented by the school administration and adhered to by each member of school staff. 

 

          The national Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has created a “Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students,” which outlines best practices for districts to employ when adopting school regulations.  We continue to advocate that the DOE utilize GLSEN’s policy, with is designed around the principle that all students have a right to be treated in a manner consistent with their gender identity, to make their own guidelines more robust and implemented universally.

          Again, it is important to remember that a student’s gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation does not equate to a special education need.  However, if your child is dealing with any of these circumstances, they too have a right to a safe school environment, and many of the special education legal principles that Skyer Law attorneys have successfully employed for over 20 years can be applied when advocating on their behalf.  

SCOTUS and Special Education

Court Asked to Define Educational Benefit Standard  

          As the Supreme Court wraps up its current term, it is determining whether to hear a special education case in its upcoming term, which will begin October.  The case in question, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is of particular relevance to our families, as it deals with defining what constitutes a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA).

          In the 1982 seminal special education case, Board of Education v. Rowley, the Supreme Court held that in order for a school district to meet its obligation to provide FAPE under the IDEA, the student’s program must be reasonably calculated to confer an educational benefit.  The Court intentionally left the legal standard for “educational benefit” undefined, and since then, 11 of the
federal court of appeals circuits have issued divided rulings regarding that standard. 

          Four of the federal districts, including New York’s 2nd Circuit, and Colorado’s 10th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over the Endrew F. case, apply an extremely low standard, ruling that the program need only confer a “just-above-trivial” benefit.  Another four circuits also apply the “just-above-trivial” benefit, but do not expressly reject a higher standard.  As opposed to this very low bar, two circuits require a school district to offer an educational program that can provide a “substantial educational benefit,” while one circuit applies different standards internally. 

         The attorneys representing the student in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, are asking the Supreme Court to define the legal standard to determine if a program has conferred an educational benefit.  The Court has invited the U.S. Solicitor General to file a brief on behalf of the United States to help determine if it should hear the case. 

          The
attorneys at Skyer Law make it a practice of staying abreast of both New York state, as well as federal, trends pertaining to special education law.  We strongly want the Supreme Court to hear this case, as we are certain its doing so will benefit our clients.  We will continuously monitor the progress of this pending case, and keep you updated on the progress.  

Skyer Law Senior Partner and Mayor de Blasio Discuss Reimbursement Delays

            As part of our continued commitment to advocate aggressively on behalf of our clients, this week senior partner, Jesse Cutler, spoke with Mayor Bill de Blasio regarding the ongoing delay parents are facing in the DOE settlement process, as a number of agreements await Comptroller review and approval. 

            Jesse, who is respected within the administration as a leading expert in the special education legal field, informed the mayor of the back log that is occurring within the comptroller’s office.  He further stressed that these delays are contrary to the mayor’s own 2014 policy initiative to streamline the settlement process.     

            Upon learning about the issue, Mayor de Blasio reaffirmed his commitment to expedite tuition reimbursements for families of students whose special education needs have not been met by the City. 

            Our staff continues to regularly follow-up on behalf of each client whose settlement agreement is awaiting review and approval in the comptroller’s office.  We also urge that parents continue to reach out to the comptroller’s office directly at (212) 669-3916 to insist upon a status of your child’s case.
  

2015-2016 Settlement Agreements Stalled in the Comptroller’s Office

Parents Forced to Wait Months for Approval

            As we reported in our blog entry on May 3rd, the tuition reimbursement process is being stalled within the NYC Comptroller’s office.  The Comptroller, Scott Stringer, is responsible for reviewing and approving all City contracts, including the Stipulation of Settlement agreements between the DOE and parents of children with special education needs.  Agreements are not released to be counter-signed by the DOE until this review and approval process is complete.  Unfortunately, when undertaking this duty, the Comptroller has not been adhering to the Mayor’s 2014 Policy Initiative to expedite these agreements.
            In addition to our staff’s aggressive follow-up on behalf of clients left in limbo, we are working in concert with a number of other special education agencies and firms to continue to pressure the Comptroller to adhere to the policy.  In response, the Comptroller’s office met earlier this month to discuss the internal review and approval process, and we are beginning to see an uptick in the number of agreements that are moving forward.  We have also learned that as a result of the push-back the office has received directly from parents, the office is scheduling a second meeting at the end of this month to further discuss the delays. 
            We therefore urge parents to continue to contact the Comptroller’s office directly at (212) 669-3916.  In doing so,
you will likely be told that any response from a Comptroller’s office representative to a parent who has retained counsel is limited to a prepared statement.  We advise you to indicate that your legal representative has advised you to make direct contact and to insist upon a status of your child’s case.  You will need to provide your child’s date of birth, along with their nine-digit NYC ID number (also referred to as their OSIS number) which can be found on the first page of the Stipulation agreement.

Congratulations Graduates

Bay Ridge Preparatory Class of 2016

High school graduates from the Bay Ridge Preparatory School in Brooklyn, are excited to take the next step in their educational journey to universities and colleges including American University, Boston College, NYU, Pepperdine University, Sarah Lawrence College and University of California, Berkley.  Among these 66 proud graduates, are students who participated in the Achieve Program and the Bridge Program.

The Bay Ridge Prep Achieve Program is designed to provide a layer of support to students who require additional academic assistance.  This support is offered as a combination of classroom work and supplemental small group work.

The Bridge Program at Bay Ridge Prep is designed to address the needs of students with diagnosed learning differences.  The goal is to maximize the learning potential of each student through the development of a focused, individualized educational program. 

To learn more about Bay Ridge Preparatory School, visit the school’s website.  

Notice of Potential Disclosure

On June 1, 2016, the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) began to notify parents of the potential for disclosure of the educational records of their children in accordance with a Judge’s Order in M.G. v. N.Y. City Department of Education.

This class action lawsuit seeks to change blanket practices of the DOE and the New York State Education Department with regard to students in State Approved Non-Public Schools and students with an IEP classification of Autism.  The release of these records may result in the provision of better access to programs and services needed by students. The Court states that the educational records will only be disclosed to the attorneys participating in the case and their experts.

No public disclosure of these records will occur. A copy of this notice may be reviewed at http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/E50307E2-1F21-421A-B3A6 BE60CA8DEBD4/0/NoticeofPotentialDisclosureofInformation.pdf

You have the right to opt out of the disclosure of these records. If you wish to opt out, you must print and fill out a form located at http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/95443971-A144-4270-901A-2C6705B1900B/0/ObjectionForm.pdf and return it to the Court by August 7, 2016. 

Pursuing Health Insurance Reimbursements for Your Child’s Therapies

Advice from an Insurance Law Expert             

Recently, the Skyer Law team participated in an in-house professional development seminar that focused on how our clients may be able to pursue their health insurance plans to obtain insurance payments for their child’s therapies and related services. 

The training was provided by leading insurance attorney, Jodi Bouer, the founding partner of Bouer Law LLC, a national insurance advocacy and litigation firm headquartered in Princeton, NJ.    

The major takeaway:  Although parents should primarily pursue services under the IDEA, they should also concurrently explore accessing health insurance reimbursements for supplemental services outside of an educational setting, which are deemed medically necessary. 

For more information and to seek guidance on whether to pursue reimbursements for your child’s therapies under your health insurance plan or to determine whether you should fight your insurer’s denial of your child’s therapeutic services, please call Jodi Bouer at 609-924-3990.

 

2015-2016 Settlements Update

We are working diligently to effectuate tuition reimbursement payments for our clients for the 2015-2016 school year. Unfortunately, the New York City Comptroller, who is responsible for reviewing and approving all settlements, is not adhering to the Mayor’s policy to expedite settlements between parents and the NYC Department of Education (See our June 25, 2014 blog to learn more about the Mayor's Policy: de Blasio Policy Update).

This is resulting in a widespread delay in the settlement process. Despite the persistent follow-up undertaken by our staff, the Comptroller’s Office remains non-responsive to our requests to ascertain the status of settlements. 

In the hope of putting additional pressure on the city, we encourage you - the parent - to contact the Comptroller’s Office directly to request that the Comptroller expedite the review of your child’s settlement. Once you reach the Comptroller’s Office you will most likely be told that, since you have retained counsel, it is your counsel that must make contact with the Comptroller’s Office. We know this, but we also know that squeaky wheels get oiled. As a result, we believe that if enough parents make noise, the Comptroller’s Office will have no choice but to listen.

You can reach the Office of the Comptroller at (212) 669-3916. Please provide the Comptroller’s Office with your child’s nine-digit NYC ID Number and Date of Birth.

Augmentative Alternative Communication

Cocktails and Communication with AAC Connection  

Augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) devices are an invaluable tool for many children whose ASD or other neurological impairment impacts their ability to communicate.  If you are a family member or caregiver of a child who uses an AAC device, AAC Connection is hosting a “Talking AAC Happy Hour”:

Thursday, May 12
6:30 – 8 PM
460 West 34th Street
12th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Attendees will benefit from hands-on AAC instruction from experienced professionals and users in a fun, relaxed environment.   For more information on AAC Connection and to register, visit
http://www.aacconnection.com/events.html.

 

Parenting a Child with Asperger's

Love That Boy

In the book, Love That Boy, columnist Ron Fournier shares his personal story as a parent of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.  His figurative journey coincides with a cross country road trip with his son, Tyler.  Their father-son bonding experience further informs Fournier’s understanding – and his appreciation – of Tyler’s uniqueness.   Read more about Ron’s story here.

Autistic Student Assaulted by His Paraprofessional

Autistic Student Assaulted by His Paraprofessional

Yesterday, a local NY newspaper reported on a pending civil case against a paraprofessional who allegedly struck a then 9-year-old autistic student in the lunchroom of PS 225, which is located in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn.  A video showing the incident was made public yesterday in the course of civil litigation against the paraprofessional and the city.  Read more about this disturbing case here.  

Autism Awareness Month

                April is Autism Awareness Month.  Depending upon a child’s specific Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), language development and the ability to communicate will likely be impacted.  Many children with an ASD diagnosis will have difficulty using language effectively, while others may be completely non-verbal. 
                Many of these children can benefit from Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) methods.  In fact, children with a wide variety of communication and language deficiencies, in addition to those with an ASD diagnosis, can benefit from AAC technological applications.  In support of Autism Awareness Month, the Apple App Store is providing the following AAC app downloads at a discounted price:

How to Survive Turning 5 Seminar

How to Survive Turning 5
A FREE Seminar for NYC Parents of Children with Special Needs


Regina Skyer and attorneys from the Skyer Law team will guide parents through the complex process of entering the NYC special education system.  One-on-one question and answer session will follow the presentation.  Teachers, therapists and related service providers are welcome.  Spaces are limited.  Register today!

Tuesday, February 9
7:30 – 9:30pm

Brooklyn Conservatory of Music
58 Seventh Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217
REGISTER

NEW DATE ADDED:
Thursday, February 25
7 – 9pm

New York Open Center
22 East 30th Street
New York, NY 10016

REGISTER

How to Survive Turning 5: The handbook for NYC parents special needs children
   now available Amazon.