We are in the trenches fighting with you and for you on a daily basis. Over the weekend I composed the below email message which was sent this morning to three members of the city council.
The email addresses of these three city council members are:
DDromm@council.nyc.gov Dgarodnick@council.nyc.gov Mviverito@council.nyc.gov
Please write to them – and ask for their help and to allow me to address the education committee. Even if you are part of the lucky group that has been paid in full for 2015-2016, many of your friends have not. And, we want to prevent this same delay for all cases during the 2016-2017 year. The Mayor needs to hear from you. We are all in this together.
I am hoping that if there is enough noise that the Mayor will get the message – his re-election is close and he needs to be seen as a man of the people and for the people. Only the Mayor can put the kind of pressure on the DOE to do their jobs.
Very truly yours,
Dear Mr. Dromm,
I am writing to you at the suggestion of Daniel Garodnick, who has always been a supporter of parents of children with special needs and whose friendship we value. I am respectfully requesting an opportunity to address the Education Committee of the City Council as soon as possible.
My firm represents parents of NYC special education students. We advocate and litigate for an appropriate education for over 1500 students a year in the NYC area. I refer you to our website www.skyerlaw.com.
When a parent believes that the DOE has failed to offer their child a free appropriate public education, often referred to as FAPE, they have the statutory right to remove their child from the public school, unilaterally place the child in a special education private school and sue the City for tuition reimbursement for this placement. The mechanism for seeking tuition reimbursement is an administrative proceeding which in NYC is known as a Due Process Impartial Hearing. There are approximately 7000 tuition reimbursement cases against the City every year. This is a cumbersome and costly process. We are told, but I have never received formal verification that the average cost to the City for an Impartial Hearing is $50,000 per case.
In June 2014 Mayor de Blasio in an attempt to reduce this burden of Due Process Impartial Hearings on both parents and the DOE, issued a policy initiative which sought to reduce the number of hearings and to assist parents in receiving their reimbursement in a timely manner. (see http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/306-14/mayor-de-blasio-speaker-silver-new-steps-help-families-students-disabilities#/0 )
As a result of this initiative the DOE is now settling approximately 96% of tuition reimbursement cases on the basis of a ten day notice, rather than the filing of a formal complaint, which would trigger the Due Process Impartial Hearing to begin. Although grateful for the high number of settled cases, the DOE has failed to adhere to any of the other tenets in Mayor De Blasio’s initiative. The situation for special education parents has in fact worsened. For the 2015-2016 school year the DOE has stopped complying with the terms of settlements which they have entered into months earlier. These agreements call for reimbursement payments to parents 30 days after execution. Parents have relied on these terms of stipulation and are now faces untenable financial burdens. In my firm alone there are over 800 cases that have not been fully paid where the DOE has agreed to pay these parents months earlier. Some cases have received partial payments, while others have received no payment.
Given the course of conduct of the DOE this immediate prior school year, if we were to advise clients not to accept settlements and to proceed to impartial hearings the cost to the City would sky-rocket. Not only does the city bear all of the administrative costs of the hearing, but when a parent is a prevailing party at a hearing the method of payment is governed by federal law and is paid within 30 days and parents are entitled to an award of reimbursement for their legal fees.
It is imperative that the City Council be aware of what is happening to their constituents and the potential dangers if the DOE does not adhere to already entered into stipulations. We ask that your members exert any influence your members may have on rectifying this matter.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.