We wrote to our clients about the DOE's new 3-year settlement agreements in February after we became aware that the City might start offering them to some clients who sue for private school tuition reimbursement. At the time, we had just received our first of such offers on behalf of a client and we weren’t thrilled with the language of the offer.
Since then, more of you have heard from us letting you know that the DOE is offering you one of these “deals.” Understandably, clients have a lot of questions about the pros and cons, and each family’s situation is unique. For some, the risks and downsides outweigh the benefits. For others, the reverse is true and taking the deal makes a lot of sense.
Now that we’ve seen more of these offers come in, we want to revisit this issue again on the blog, clearly listing the pros and cons. Please note that this is based on the language of the offers we have seen thus far. The DOE could always change the terms in the future.
• Might speed up the tuition reimbursement process in years two and three of a 3-year agreement.
• Might secure a settlement amount you are happy with for two additional years.
• If tuition increases, you are basically locked into the dollar amount you agreed to; we are only allowed to negotiate a small Consumer Price Index adjustment. Further, any negotiation of the dollar amount of your settlement completely negates the promise of a “speedier” process.
• The agreement is void if the parent is not fully cooperating with the IEP process or if the IEP changes “significantly.”
• The child can’t change schools without voiding the agreement.
• The settlement must still be approved each year by the NYC Comptroller’s office—usually the slowest part of the reimbursement process.
• Even with this agreement, the family must still go through nearly the same process: private evaluations/updates as needed, IEP meeting, ten-day notices prepared by an attorney, submission of payment and other records, and, as mentioned above, comptroller approval each year.
• And finally: Nothing in the agreement guarantees that the DOE will settle your case in years two and three.
That last bolded bullet point is a big one. The city could sign one of these three-year agreements with you and still decide to litigate and take your case to an impartial hearing; they aren’t promising to settle, they are promising to pay you a certain dollar amount if they decide to settle.
In his 2014 Special Education Initiative, the Mayor promised, among other important things, to improve the speed of the tuition reimbursement process. In politics, it’s important to be able to say you are doing something, and while we applaud any effort to make the process for reimbursement move more quickly, the greatest inefficiencies in the speed of reimbursements seem to reside in the approval process with the NYC Comptroller’s office, and the nature of this problem has yet to be fully explained or addressed.
One final note: Some people have called to ask how they can get a 3-year agreement for their child’s case. Unfortunately, these settlement agreements can’t be requested by a parent; they are offered by the DOE on a case by case basis. It remains unclear at this early stage what criteria the DOE is using to decide who to offer them to and who not to.
If we receive a renewable agreement offer from the DOE for your case, we will reach out to talk about the particulars of your situation.