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 –