Tens of Thousands of Special Needs Kids Are (Still) Falling Through the Cracks

by Lara Damashek

While there has been important progress in NYC special education (such as the Mayor’s “fast-tracking” of settlements, which has been the topic of many blog posts here), it would be irresponsible not to remind ourselves that there are a great many children who still need the community of special education advocates to keep on fighting.    

Earlier this month, the NYC Department of Education released long-awaited numbers that show how badly the City continues to struggle to serve its roughly 212,000 students with IEPs. Alex Zimmerman reported on widespread lags in completing required assessments in a November 1st article published by the education watchdog blog Chalkbeat. In the article, he reports that “[a]bout 30 percent of students had to wait longer than the two months allowed under law to be assessed for education plans that outline the services the city is required to provide them[.]” 

According to the numbers the Department of Education released, 71 % of students got their IEPs within the legally required time frame, as compared to 69.5 % during the prior school year.  As many of you are well aware, the city is required by law to evaluate a child, hold an IEP meeting, make a recommendation, and implement that recommendation within 60 school days of a parent giving their consent. See the NYC special education timeline in more detail at

And this wasn’t even the worst news. Chalkbeat further reported that the same data showed that “[j]ust 59 percent of students received the full range of services required on their individualized education programs, or IEPs, compared with 60 percent the previous school year.”

Although the city has warned against the reliability of its statistics, the message we take away from articles like this remains the same – there are far too many kids in our city who suffer as a result of ongoing delays in the delivery of special education services.  

Life After the IEP: Transitioning to College

         After years of navigating the special education system, meeting with school district officials and teachers, identifying and arranging for outside therapies, communicating with related service providers and countless other acts of advocacy on behalf of your child, parents of students with special needs invariably face the unnerving crossroads of life… after the IEP.

          For students who are seeking to transition to college programs, there are a number of issues that need to be identified and examined.  There is no requirement for students who are entering college to identify themselves as having previously been classified with an educational disability. However, in order to receive any accommodations, the student will eventually be required to register with their college’s office of disability services and submit necessary documentation regarding their disability and special education needs. Colleges differ as to the type and specificity of the documentation that is required to access special education support and/or accommodations. However, what all colleges do require is that the documentation be recent (typically, within a three year margin) and that it be reflective of the student’s current educational needs (as measured by a psychoeducational evaluation, which includes assessments of aptitude and academic achievement, test scores, a clinical summary, a diagnosis and recommendations for accommodations). A student’s most recent IEP might also be requested by colleges that have separate applications procedures for admission to any comprehensive programs they might offer for students with learning disabilities.   

           Direct contact with the college’s office of disability services will provide you with specific information regarding the type of documentation that is needed to support a request for accommodations, classroom modifications, course substitutions /waivers and the availability of other supportive services. Speaking with representatives from the office of disability services might also provide some insight into the college’s philosophy, its student body, on campus resources as well as the college’s ability to meet your child’s specific needs in terms of accessibility issues or the availability and extent of academic, social or emotional support.  

            From a legal perspective, while the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not apply to post-secondary educational institutions, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) do apply. These statutes preclude colleges and universities from engaging in discriminatory conduct or activity that is predicated solely on the basis of a student’s disability.  It is critical to emphasize, however, that the requirement that a school district provide a free and appropriate education is not applicable to post-secondary educational institutions and the cost of tuition is, therefore, an important factor to consider in future planning.

            There are a number of other critical issues that should be explored in evaluating your child’s transition to college or in assessing other post-secondary options. Part II of Life After the IEP will address consideration of these various issues.                

Busing Blog: Part 4 of 4


       If your child is known to the DOE and has a nine digit NYC ID number, here is how you will know if your child has been assigned a route. At the end of August, you can check the OPT website: found here. Scroll down on the homepage and you will see “Find Your Child’s Bus Route.” You will need your child’s NYC ID and birth date to search for their route. You will also receive a letter from OPT at the end of August with your child’s bus route, the route’s start time, your child’s pick-up and drop-off number (meaning how many kids will be picked up before your child and how many will be dropped off before him/her), and the name and phone number of the bus company responsible for your child’s route. This is useful information because it will give you a sense of how many kids are on the route, an idea of how long your child will be on the bus and contact information for the bus company that will be transporting your child.

A word of caution here: The routes are always a mess at the start of the school year! Be prepared for that. Try not to panic when you see that the route starts at 6:15 or 6:30 in the morning. In many cases, once the route starts and the driver gets a hang of it, the pick-up time will shift later. You can call the bus company (the phone number will be on the letter from OPT) to find out what time your child should be ready to be picked up on the first day. Many parents choose not to put their child on the bus for the first few days until the driver becomes familiar with the route. You can also check OPT’s website to see whether your child has been assigned to a route.

      Once your child has been assigned a route, the aggravation doesn’t necessarily end. Drivers and matrons vary but, for the most part, they care about the kids and take their jobs very seriously. It is in your best interest to establish a good relationship with your driver and matron. They will be very important people in your lives! Most of them will give you their cell phones numbers so that you can be in direct contact if you know your child won’t be riding the bus one day or if they know that they will be running late. When you do run into a problem, contact OPT to file a complaint (718-392-8855) and make sure your child’s school does the same thing. For example, if the kids are consistently getting to school late.

      For the most part, once the routes get set after the first few weeks of school, most kids really enjoy their ride to school and meet kids from other grades that they may not know otherwise. So hang in there!

Busing Blog: Part 3 of 4


 If you had a CSE/IEP meeting but your child’s recommendation was for ICT or General Ed with SETTS, or you did not have a meeting, or they found your child to be non-handicapped, although you now have the nine digit NYC ID number, you are not automatically entitled to a bus route. In this situation, the process of securing a bus route is more difficult. In our office, we will request busing for all of our clients who need it, in our August Notices to the DOE. Sometimes as a result of this request, the child will be placed in the OPT system and routed on a bus. However, this is not an entitlement. Any family that is in the process of having their child attend a private special education school must use an attorney or seasoned advocate to help them. The transportation is part of this process and we advise all parents to start planning for this well in advance of the school year.

Another and often time overlooked way of getting a bus route for a child who does not qualify by virtue of the program recommendation is if a parent can establish a medical reason why their child needs door to door transportation.

If you cannot secure busing through the DOE, be sure to keep records of the cost of transporting your child to and from school and speak with your attorney about including this in your impartial hearing request for tuition reimbursement. 

Busing Blog: Part 2 of 4


Once your child has a New York City ID number, the question becomes how to get this number into OPT’s system so that s/he can be on a bus to and from their private special education school. There is not  one easy answer because each case is unique to each student. Here are some helpful guidelines.

For children who are entering the DOE system for the first time and have an IEP that recommends a full-time special education program (12:1:1, District 75, defer to CBST), that child is automatically entitled to busing. In this situation his or her nine digit NYC ID number should be sent to OPT by the District Representative who ran your child’s CSE/IEP meeting. My suggestion is that at the end of the CSE/IEP meeting, ask for the email and telephone number of the district representative. Do not tell them that this is to arrange for busing to a private school. Remember at this meeting you are open to considering all placement recommendations – which means both private and public. Simply get this person’s contact information for any further questions you may have.

What happens next can be either that the private school enters your child’s NYC ID number into the OPT system for a bus route, if they are permitted to do so, or the district will do this once they get Notice that your child will be attending a private school. Notice will be the subject of another blog, but for now, suffice it to say that Notices are filed in late August and that’s when bus routes start to get sorted out. At the end of August, you can check the OPT website to see if your child has been assigned a bus route: If not, I recommend that you contact the district representative to assure that this has been done. This might even mean going down to the CSE with the IEP that has a full time special education recommendation. Be prepared to camp out at the district for hours to accomplish this! Also, make sure to have a back-up plan in case transportation is delayed which can happen for a variety of reasons.

If a child is recommended for a full time special education program and your district or private school is not able to get the child on the bus, speak with your attorney or advocate. In some situations this can give rise to a claim for reimbursement for the cost of your transporting your child to and from school.