We are living through unprecedented times in our dealings with the NYC Department of Education.
The process of suing for tuition reimbursement has always moved slowly. But in the past few years, the wheels of the bureaucracy have seemed to calcify. From start to finish it can now take up to two years for a parent to see any reimbursement on a settlement for tuition. And pendency orders, which should be paid out each month, are sometimes going unpaid for 6 months and longer.
These endemic, chronic delays represent the most dramatic change in practice that we have experienced in over a decade. Parents who are newer to this process may not realize that during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, the entire settlement process was generally completed within 9 months.
In 2014, Mayor De Blasio announced his Special Education Initiative, which resulted in immediate improvements in more cases being recommended for settlement (avoiding the risk of an Impartial Hearing), and in the DOE offering higher dollar amounts—all welcome, positive changes.
But these improvements have been completely overshadowed by the delays in repayment. If you can’t afford to front two years of tuition, it hardly matters what dollar amount the settlement is. The basic math of this is why these delays have a particularly cruel impact on struggling middle class families.
Our lawyers and paralegals spend part of each and every day hounding the DOE for updates on all of our cases. We have also been in contact with the senior supervisors at the DOE, with the Office of General Counsel at the DOE, and at the Comptroller’s Office.
But we know it’s not enough.
This year, we are focusing our external advocacy efforts on the issue of delays in settlement reimbursements and pendency payments. We have written to our allies in the City Council about this issue, and have begun to educate members of the City Council Education Committee.
We want you, our clients, to be empowered to also take action, and recently we have seen evidence that contacting your local City Council Member for help with your individual case is a strategy worth pursuing. This strategy has the added bonus of serving as a specific case study to your representative as we pursue policy changes on the macro level.
While your Council Member cannot do anything before your case has settled, it is perfectly appropriate for them to make inquiries when money owed to their constituents is unreasonably delayed due to the inefficiencies of a City agency. Hopefully, your Council Member is willing to help.
When you call, provide your name and address to demonstrate that you are a constituent, and then ask the Council Member to contact the City and resolve the issue (i.e. ask the City to pay you/the school/the provider the money owed). The Council Member will need information and/or documents from you to do this effectively. What they need will vary based on your particular situation.
Scenario 1: Your case has settled, you have an “executed stipulation,” and now more than a few months have passed with no money back.
Your Council Member will need a copy of your executed stipulation. An “executed stipulation” (often casually referred to as a “stip”) is an agreement for settlement that you have signed and that the DOE has counter-signed. If you do not have a copy, ask your paralegal or attorney for a copy.
Scenario 2: Your case has settled, you have signed the stipulation, but the DOE has not counter-signed it in a timely manner.
The settlement you agreed to is either waiting for Comptroller review or the assigned DOE lawyer hasn’t sent it to the Comptroller’s Office. Ask your paralegal or attorney for the current status of your case.
When you call your Council Member, also provide them with your child’s name, student ID (OSIS) number, date of birth, and your case’s TDN (ten day notice) number or IHO (impartial hearing office) number (you will only have one of these numbers). If you do not know your TDN or IHO number, ask your paralegal or attorney for it.
Scenario 3: You have a pendency order, but the DOE is behind on payments.
The DOE is supposed to pay out the services agreed to under a pendency order every month. About 45 days after the required documents (which may include contracts, attendance records, invoices, and affidavits) have been submitted, it’s reasonable to consider a pendency payment late.
When you call your Council Member, provide them with a copy of the IHO order you received in the mail. If you do not have it anymore, ask your paralegal or attorney for a copy.
Not sure who your City Council Member is or how to contact them? You can look them up using your street address on the City Council website.