Speaking Out Against Gun Violence and Bias in Our Schools

In the days following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we were heartened to open The New York Times and see a full-page, open letter signed by the heads of hundreds of independent schools throughout New York State, including many of the wonderful special education schools our clients’ children attend. Titled “Heads of Schools Speak Out Against Gun Violence,” the joint letter called upon our President and Congress to enact common sense gun law reform.

Unfortunately, rather than doing the hard work of reforming gun laws, Congress is looking at legislation like HR 4909, the Students, Teachers, and Officers Prevention (STOP) School Violence Act, which would set aside funds for grants to public school districts and private schools for the installation of new school security infrastructure, coordination with law enforcement, and the development of anonymous reporting systems, among other measures.

Evidence-based research has consistently demonstrated that increasing policing in schools does not make the school environment safer. Further, HR 4909 does not meet obligations under civil rights statutes, including the IDEA, to guarantee that students receive fair treatment, equal protection, and due process rights. The fact of the matter is that people with disabilities, including the mentally ill and those with emotional disturbances, are much more likely to become victims of violence than to be its perpetrators. Measures that criminalize our students, particularly those for whom behavior is a concern, inappropriately exacerbate the biases already operating against them.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, of which we are a member, has issued two statements on this topic since the Parkland tragedy: one calling upon Congress to fund the creation of strong therapeutic programs for children who need intensive services and to finance training in positive, trauma-informed techniques to resolve behavioral challenges, and a second statement in opposition to HR 4909. We stand in agreement with both of these statements.

These are not partisan issues. We must put aside tribalism and find common ground to protect our children and teachers from gun violence without needlessly contributing to bias and discrimination against our most vulnerable students and without turning our schools into prisons.

HR4909 has already passed in the House and been delivered to the Senate for consideration. You can contact Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand to share your opinion about HR 4909.

Understanding the Importance of Classification on an IEP

by Abbie Smith

Many parents ask us if the classification their child receives on their IEP really matters. As with all things in special education, the answer is: It depends!

Preschool students in New York City are all given the same classification by the CPSE (Committee for Preschool Special Education) on their IEPs: “Preschooler with a Disability.” But once a child turns 5 and enters the CSE (Committee on Special Education), they must be given a more specific classification. This is because the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is the federal law that provides a disabled student’s right to an IEP, requires that the qualifying student’s school performance must be “adversely affected” by one of 13 conditions:

  • Autism
  • Deafness
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability
  • Learning disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health-impairment
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment (which includes blindness)

It isn’t uncommon for parents to look at this list for the first time and wonder if a classification will be stigmatizing or limiting. While no one can promise you that someone won’t prejudge your child because of their classification, the vast majority of educators understand that these labels serve a procedural purpose only. At the end of the day, choosing a classification is simply a necessary step in getting your child what they need to learn and thrive at school.

Here are some other important things to understand about classification:

Classification is not the same as diagnosis. Julie may have a diagnosed hearing impairment, but it is entirely possible that the IEP team classifies her with “Other Health Impairment” if she also has ADHD and her significant attentional issues are impacting her ability to learn.

Classifications are selected based on what most impacts a child’s learning. The decision about which classification to pick is made at the student's IEP meeting. The IEP team (including the parent) will discuss the options and choose the classification that best fits the child’s situation. Even when a child could fit into two (or more) boxes, a team cannot “dual classify” – but the IEP program must still address all the identified needs of the child.

Classifications may change. Perhaps Julie was classified with “Other Health Impairment” as a kindergartner; but then, as the reading and writing demands of school increased, her classification was changed to “Learning Disability.” The needs and challenges of children change as they grow, and so should IEP classifications.

Approved Non-Private Schools are only licensed for specific classifications of IEP students. If your IEP team decides to defer you child’s case to the Central Based Support Team (CBST) for placement in a state-approved non-public school (, the school your child is placed in must be licensed to accept students with the disability classification on the child’s IEP. If you are considering one of these schools, make sure you know what classifications the school can accept.

Some classifications come with services. For example, an Autism classification must come with parent training services, and a Speech and Language classification is understood to imply a need for speech therapy.

When a child is unilaterally placed in an independent private school, the school is not obligated to “meet” the IEP as it is written, so the classification becomes far less relevant. However, because you must attend each annual IEP meeting with an open mind, including public options and approved non-private school options, it is important that you do not ignore the classification conversation even if you anticipate that your child will continue to attend an independent private school.

No Meaningful Changes to Obligations of School Districts, Student Rights in Rescinding of 72 Guidance Documents by Trump Administration

Following Friday’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Education, first reported by Disability Scoop, that the Trump Administration is rescinding 72 federal guidance documents that they say are “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective,” many parents were understandably alarmed. This move came without warning or engagement with stakeholders.

We want to assure you that the laws and regulations that the guidance documents relate to are still in full force and effect. There has been absolutely no change in law.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act was originally drafted in 1970 and enacted in 1975. It has been ‘reauthorized’ several times, most recently in 2004. Each time it is reauthorized, the U.S. Department of Education promulgates new regulations for implementation of the updated laws. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services then issues so-called ‘guidance documents’ to explain and clarify these changes in plain language.

A number of these guidance documents have been issued over the years, and, as the Department of Education says, many have been replaced by new versions or are no longer in full force and effect due to changes in the law over time. A full list of the rescinded guidance documents is available here.

Yesterday, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), of which we are a member, released a statement on the rescinding of these guidance documents which expressed their disappointment in the process, saying:

…COPAA is disappointed in the way OSERS has made this announcement because the process undertaken lacks complete transparency to the public. It is unfortunate that the list of rescissions does not include any explanation for changes made which leaves stakeholders in the dark.

Our office continues to stay abreast of changes to federal and state laws that may impact on your family. Stay subscribed to our email list to receive these important updates.