Delivering for Students with Disabilities
Andrew Yang is committed to uplifting all of New York City’s students, including the more than 200,000 students with disabilities who require an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Students with disabilities make up nearly one in five of New York City public school students. The vast majority of students with disabilities go to public school and many spend at least some time in general education classrooms. All teachers, principals and school safety officials should be trained to provide positive academic and social experiences for students with disabilities in all of our public schools. This includes faculty in general education schools who do not have District 75 classrooms. Billions of dollars are invested in services and bureaucracy in an attempt to serve these students – with limited results. The high school graduation rate for students with disabilities is under 50%; the dropout rate is almost 14%. For too long our students have been enrolled in a system that does little to customize their experiences and meet the services prescribed in their IEPs.
We must do better to meet the needs of our youth with disabilities. Andrew Yang recognizes that many students with disabilities do not receive the services to which they are legally entitled or do not qualify for an IEP when they should. Additionally, students with disabilities have high rates of absenteeism and are forced to fight through a bureaucratic system with burdensome delays to receive a decent, fair and appropriate education. Above all, we must ensure that a student’s IEP is appropriate for that student. Andrew Yang is conscious of data trends in which some groups of students are potentially over identified for special education. For example, 35% of students in District 75 schools are Black, even though Black students comprise 22% of all DOE students and 27% of DOE students with IEPs. A Yang administration will be attuned to racial and gender biases and stigma that disproportionately affect students of color and also girls, who “may be under-identified for special education accommodations compared with their male peers.”
As Mayor, Andrew Yang will:
- Increase the number of related service providers in schools and create a corps of specialized staff to increase access to resources for students where they are;
- Ensure that disability rights advocates are placed in high level and key positions within the Department of Education;
- Work towards building an ambitious public school system that is effective for all of New York City’s students.
- Improve outreach and engagement through sustained parent involvement with school staff, teachers, parent coordinators and give parents access to SESIS;
- Speed up the hearing process for disputes over adequate resources for children;
- Ensure students with disabilities have the same access to physical education as their peers and collaborate with NYC Parks Department.
These issues are not just political to Andrew; they are immensely personal. Andrew Yang and his wife Evelyn are the parents of two children with IEPs. That’s why Andrew is ready to fight to make change happen as a parent and elected official. Here’s our plan to make the DOE inclusive and equitable for all students.
I) Invest in supporting students with disabilities.
In 2020-21, nearly 32,000 students did not receive their full mandated special education instruction. Many of these problems have come about because of a dysfunctional system in which students’ needs are not always being adequately tracked and due to a lack of providers available in schools to offer students the related services prescribed in their IEPs. Particularly in the wake of the pandemic, in which the remote learning environment exacerbated the failures to serve students with disabilities, Andrew Yang will be laser focused on providing the crucial support needed to get students back on track. To overhaul the DOE’s approach toward supporting students with disabilities, Andrew Yang will:
Increase the supply of providers in DOE schools so students get the legally mandated related services they need.
Although in recent years the city has made some progress to improve services through investing “an additional $33 million citywide in special education resources, which includes the hiring of about 200 clinicians to improve the accuracy of identifications and the timeliness and quality of services,” there is much more that must be done to ensure ubiquitous access to related services with priority given to those most in need. A Yang administration will increase the supply of service providers immediately and meet this long term need by creating a fellowship program for related service providers, included but not limited to, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, adaptive PE teachers and bilingual related service providers. Andrew Yang will also leverage existing educational and enrichment opportunities for related service providers by embarking on an effort to increase awareness of these existing programs. Through efficient training and certification we will get more qualified providers into school buildings to deliver services throughout the school day for decades to come.
Improve upon the Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) by making the information transparent and ensuring parent access.
New York City has committed to building a new digital infrastructure to track the needs of students with disabilities. After investing more than $130 million, the Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) initially failed to achieve many of the goals it had originally set due to overwhelming system failures. SESIS’s story is indicative of the management failures of New York City’s special needs programs. For the city to be able to develop an effective education system for all students, it must, at the bare minimum, be able to keep track of student performance. While it is encouraging to see some of the initial kinks being worked out, we must see through commitments to facilitate enriched parent involvement. A Yang administration will ensure parents have access to the Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) so parents see the status of related services and appointments in their primary language to foster sustained engagement in their child’s education. Acknowledging that there are talks within the current administration to abandon SESIS, Andrew Yang will work with teachers, administrators, related service providers and parents to ensure whatever system is used, whether an improved SESIS or otherwise, parents have sufficient access. A Yang administration will also organize focus groups with teachers, school officials such as social workers, psychologists, parent coordinators and parents to continually track and identify problems with SESIS.
Conduct more direct outreach to parents with a focus on how the city could improve children and families’ experiences.
We must be doing much more to proactively engage parents, Community Education Councils (CECs), Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and existing infrastructure of parent groups to receive their feedback on their experiences. Often it is incumbent on parents to reach out to schools and service providers with feedback and to request adjustments. We should reverse this dynamic. One way to do this is through an annual survey to all families with IEPs and 504s, soliciting feedback on how their child’s education is progressing and ways the system could be improved so that avenues for dialogue and improving a student’s IEP are open throughout the year, not just during annual IEP meetings. Yang will also leverage the great work of parent coordinators —many of whom have strong existing relationships with parents— to participate in district wide roundtables and report back on parent concerns while offering a continuous process for parents to interact with school officials. The administration would then actualize on the data learned through the meetings to implement the changes that are needed most.
Create a corps of specialized staff who could be deployed to schools as needed.
Andrew Yang supports proposals put out by Advocates for Children to build a corps of specialized staff who can be deployed to schools as needed. This will facilitate students with disabilities learning in general education settings. It will also ensure more students with disabilities have access to effective, individualized services, including literacy and behavioral supports, beyond the limited options that are available at their schools.
Address chronic shortages.
Andrew Yang will conduct a prospective needs assessment across district schools to identify structural shortages. One such example where we know there has been lack of support is in bilingual special education and pre-k special education. In 2019, 3,800 students who needed bilingual special education classes did not have one, correspondingly the city’s projections show a shortfall of 1,000- 2,000 seats for the spring of 2020 of pre-k special education classes, which are disproportionately lacking in the Bronx. The needs assessment will identify these shortages and the right solutions appropriate to those schools. Solutions include, for example, leveraging the corps of specialized staff and/or additional related service providers, teachers, counselors or other to help address these chronic shortages within the school setting. Doing so will work toward achieving the federal mandate of educating students in their least restrictive environment.
Make the process for getting related services outside of school more efficient by conducting outreach to connect parents with providers and expanding the number of specialized providers in each district.
In cases where no service provider can be offered in school, we must improve our related services system. Parents of children in these situations are given “vouchers” for related services and become responsible for finding support outside of their school—but many areas of the city do not have enough providers, leading to nearly half of the 9,000 vouchers issued in 2015-2016 going unused. Additionally, the lists themselves are out of date. In Yang’s New York, this list of providers will be constantly updated and providers will be sought in all five boroughs so that no family is turned away from receiving the extra help their child needs. Andrew Yang will reduce additional barriers to accessing these services through coordinating transportation with RSA settings, translating information into other languages and partnering with community organizations to spread awareness of availability.
Expand programs that work, such as ASD Next and Horizon.
A Yang administration will build on the success of select programs such as AIMS and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Nest Program, which have already helped students with autism achieve excellent results using positive behavior support, targeted instructional strategies and specialized social intervention in small classroom environments. Andrew will coordinate with principals, higher education institutions and teachers to ensure that innovative programs like ASD Nest and AIMS receive the support and funding they need to serve more New York City children. Our goal will be to bring at least 5 more of these programs to schools per borough. Additionally, Andrew will seek to ensure children receive specialized, flexible support in a manner that does not require a complete upheaval of the child’s education by demanding that they switch schools. By increasing the availability of these select programs, we will achieve this goal.
Hold all schools to the same standards as DOE schools.
We know that the federal IDEA law does not stop at DOE’s doorstep. We must insist that all educational institutions, whether private, charter, or public schools supply our students with the services mandated by their IEP. The DOE under a Yang administration will work in partnership with charter schools, for example, to ensure they have the specialized services they need to deliver for all students.
Ensure District 75 is a symbiotic part of our school ecosystem.
Citywide District 75 serves students with the most challenging disabilities. At times, however, students in District 75 schools feel isolated and cast aside. Some of this is due to their physical location, such as being relegated to hallways within school buildings and because there are not enough District 75 classrooms so students have to travel farther. We must make a concerted effort to increase inclusivity and equity for District 75 students, including with equity in distribution of locations so that students have access to these classrooms. This will be done through actively partnering with District 75 parents in responding to their needs and ensuring that these parents are part of systemwide surveys, roundtables and discussions. A corps of traveling specialists will also help provide students who prefer to stay in the District 1-32 schools as opposed to going to District 75 with more options in their zoned school. Again, these steps will be taken to ensure that NYC is meeting its federal mandate of educating students in their least restrictive environment.
Commit to talking about students and families in strength-based ways.
Too often there is a stigma associated with disability and this largely stems from the language used to describe difference. Words such as “lagging,” “underperforming,” and “deficient” perpetuate this stigma and do not empower students. We must commit to changing our language at the system level so that we discuss what students can do, not just what they can’t do. Likewise, we understand that many students are “twice exceptional” or 2e, referring to gifted students who have a disability. We must recognize the strengths in all of our students and encourage these strengths and no longer allow “disability” to be a hindering label because we know all children can succeed. Beyond language considerations, a Yang administration will direct the DOE to emphasize projects, portfolio work, group work and other assessments that are aligned with grade-level learning standards. We must create multiple entry points for students to show and apply what they know.
II) Overhaul the due process hearing system.
The first priority must be ensuring that the DOE is well-equipped to meet the needs of all of its students. The due process hearing is an administrative process for resolving any complaints or issues parents have with the DOE. In situations where parents feel private education would be best or that their complaint is significant enough to warrant a hearing, the city should overhaul its due process hearing system to offer greater support and relief for families who go through the system.
In the event that parents feel their children’s needs are not being met under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to children, parents can bring due process complaints. In 2016-17, New York City easily surpassed the total number of due process complaints filed in a combined five other similarly sized states (Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas) and had more complaints than the entire state of California.In fact, 45% of the special education administrative hearings filed nationwide in 2018-2019 were from NYC. Over 90% of complaints filed in New York State, every year, originate in New York City. At the start of 2020, New York City had around 10,000 open special education due process complaints, with the number growing every day. But the problems don’t end there. In 2018-2019, New York City accounted for a staggering 96% of granted extensions within New York State’s due process hearing system.
These complaints and extensions are problematic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the number of complaints suggest systemic failures in New York City’s public school system, which Andrew Yang will remedy with the above proposals. Second, parents and their children are forced to wait months before they can share their story and may have to wait years to have issues resolved. Third, these complaints cost the city a substantial amount of money. Above all, we know that this is an equity issue: those who have the means navigate the system do better than those without. Andrew Yang is committed to closing this gap.
Andrew Yang will address the system’s failures by advocating to hire more impartial hiring officers, reorienting to a groundbreaking pre-paid model for three years after a hearing decision is made, allowing the use of alternative technology in hearings wherever possible, ensuring that steps in the Compliance Assurance Plan are being taken, and ensure cooperation and compliance with the newly-ordered “Special Monitor,” who is charged with overseeing compliance with settlement agreements.
Advocate to increase the amount of listed state approved non-public schools.
Andrew Yang’s goal will be to create a DOE that is as responsive to students’ needs as possible. A Yang administration will advocate for the state to update its list of acceptable private schools. Parents would be given access to this list before they begin the litigation process, which we know is inaccessible to the majority of parents who do not have the resources and means to navigate litigation. Beyond this, many schools have chosen to come off this list because of past negative experiences with the DOE in terms of tuition payment. By improving the process through the below steps, Andrew Yang will incentivize a more positive relationship with parents and approved non-public schools alike.
Advocate for more Impartial Hearing Officers (IHOs).
Currently, there are not enough individuals certified to oversee due process hearings in New York City. More hearing officers would expedite the process. Parents and students deserve to receive decisions in a timely and reasonable manner. Yang will commit to hiring more IHOs. There should also be more staff on the impartial hearing orders unit to ensure that hearing orders are being complied with.
Expand the use of alternative technologies like telephonic testimony and video-conferencing in order to make hearings more accessible.
There is no reason to force hearings to be only held in person. COVID-19 has shown us that processes can still be conducted efficiently even while remote. When needed, parents and students should be able to continue to phone or video call into their hearings with the accessibility accommodations needed and translations available in their primary language in order to have more hearings be heard quicker, as was experimented with during the pandemic. Andrew Yang is encouraged to see the state’s action on this and is committed to facilitating its use.
Ensure the Compliance Assurance Plan’s required steps are being taken.
In May 2019, the New York State Education Department demanded that New York City’s Department of Education comply with certain measures to correct noncompliance with federal and state special needs requirements. These measures were recommended in order to reduce New York City’s backlog of due process actions. Andrew Yang will ensure that these requirements are met to make the hearing system more responsive to the needs of New Yorkers. Another measure is to consistently survey whether students with disabilities are receiving outstanding delivery of programs and related service mandates to ensure the full delivery of IEP programs and related services within the mandated timeline.
Ensure compliance with the newly-ordered “Special Monitor” to make sure that its recommendations are implemented quickly and effectively.
In January 2021, Judge Preska ordered that New York City’s special education complaint system get a court-ordered monitor known as a “special monitor” to ensure compliance with special education services. Advocates and nonprofits have been calling for this new monitor role for years. Andrew Yang is committed to directing the DOE to be cooperative and compliant with the special monitor’s orders in a timely manner.
Repair the private school reimbursement system for children with disabilities.
New York City is required to provide its students with an appropriate education. Families can file a hearing request to access public funding for private schooling when DOE clinicians do not believe private schooling to be warranted by the data collected. Parents first find a private school that fits their needs, and then enter a legal process, to ask the Department of Education for a tuition reimbursement, known as a “Carter Case.” Although coherent on its face, this reimbursement system is deeply flawed. The due process hearings, as already mentioned, are slow and arduous. Parents who win funding for private school placements for their children are forced to wait months before being reimbursed for tuition. For most families, this means paying tuition upfront—an unrealistic burden placed upon the shoulders of working-class New Yorkers and an extremely complex legal system to navigate for many families, especially those for whom English is not their first language. According to the IBO, “the current year’s budget for Carter Cases brings the 2021 budget for these expenses to $653 million.” Cases have almost doubled between 2014 and 2019, reaching 9,695 and the process by law is supposed to take 75 days, but stretched to 225 days on average in 2018. Amidst ballooning cases and wait times, the DOE has promised to expedite decisions, including not re-litigating settled cases, reducing extended legal battles, reducing paperwork and expediting payments, but these promises have not yet fully materialized.
That is why a Yang administration proposes switching to an annual pre-payment system rather than a reimbursement system for families who have already settled with the city on an appropriate private school placement. Instead of a tuition reimbursement program, Andrew Yang will advocate for a presumption of approval for future years’ tuition by creating a special education payment system to serve families who have already won a reimbursement settlement. This will ensure that children can receive their legally approved appropriate education without having to go through litigation every year. Parents would be given the payments upfront annually to cover the costs of private schooling. Further, Yang proposes a three-year authorization, in line with a student’s triennial evaluation with a check-point each year to ensure the situation has not changed with respect to the students’ needs and/or tuition costs. Thus, there would still be an annual meeting as required by the IEP. And, this would be an opt-in system while parents could still choose to relitigate every year instead of receiving a prepayment.
A pre-payment system would immediately shift financial burdens away from families, and it would also free up IHOs to hear new cases by reducing the number of families who must go through the system. As a parent who has gone through this process, Andrew Yang knows how difficult it can be and how stressful it is to pay for tuition upfront while waiting for a reimbursement. Andrew recognizes this is a temporary solution: special needs students should be in public schools that are adequately equipped to teach them, but an overhaul of the education system should not mean ignoring the needs of special needs students here and now.
III) Make education more responsive to the needs of all students.
COVID-19 devastated New York City. Andrew Yang is committed to ensuring we do not waste the lessons learned during the pandemic. As Mayor, Yang will ensure that the City’s education system’s weaknesses are not ignored for future disasters to exacerbate.
To improve educational experiences and outcomes for students with IEPs, we must train general education teachers and administrators to do a better job of serving students with IEPs and the larger group of students with learning differences. One form this can take is training on effective team teaching for teachers in ICT integrated co-teaching classes, who currently receive little to no training. Andrew Yang believes in taking an “all means all” approach to training where teachers are focused on the needs of students at the margins. A Yang administration would commit to training and ongoing coaching to all team teaching teachers and paraprofessionals on effective team teaching practices with the goal of erasing gaps in the quality of experiences of students with disabilities as reflected in student and parent surveys. Collaboration between related service providers and special education or general education classroom teachers can also be very impactful in creating inclusive environments and ensuring students get the most out of their instructional time. A Yang administration will also work with principals, parents and students, administrators and unions to reduce class size and improve teacher-students ratios.
Create pathways for more teachers of color and with disabilities to address historic inequities in special education.
In 2018 “there were 130,885 boys with special education accommodations in NYC versus 66,995 girls, despite a fairly equitable distribution of both boys and girls systemwide.” While this data leads to concerns that girls are being under-identified, there is also concern that Black boys are over-referred for special education services —particularly because of perceived “behavioral issues”— as they make up nearly 20% of students receiving special ed services and only 13% of students in DOE schools. We must examine these historical inequities by gathering intersectional data that consistently reveals how many students are receiving services across racial and gender cleavages. Beyond accurate data gathering, Andrew Yang will also forge pathways for men of color to enter the teaching profession. In 2016, just 3.7 percent of the city’s public school teachers were Black men, 3%percent were Latino men and less than 2 percent Asian men. In 2020, the de Blasio administration set a goal of adding 1,000 men of color to the pathway to become teachers by 2022. Andrew Yang will use the power of the DOE as the largest employer of public school teachers in the country to see this goal to completion through recruitment and retention efforts, such as residency programs that invest in future educators. He will also create a NYC teacher pipeline through the “Big Apple Corps,” which will bring 10,000 Americorps volunteers to Title 1 schools with an emphasis on “inclusive learning” and a long term investment in serving NYC’s public school students.
Ensure professional development for principals, teachers, and paraprofessionals.
Andrew Yang’s DOE will partner with organizations with a track record in professional learning and special education to deliver professional development and coaching for principals and teachers, including general education teachers.
Implement Municipal Broadband.
While New York City is one of the places in the world most wired for the internet, we saw that affordability matters as much as availability for the 29% of New Yorkers without a broadband subscription. The digital divide for people with disabilities is a stark reality. In particular, the lack of access to broadband and technology for students living in our shelter system during the pandemic was unconscionable. We must do better for the 28.3% of students in homeless shelters with IEPs, we must do better. The internet is not a luxury, it’s a right. That’s why a Yang administration is committed to spending $100 million a year to ensure that every New Yorker who wants broadband has access.
Invest and maintain technology needed for education in the 21st century.
We also saw that families need devices and resources to maintain them. The Department of Education invested approximately $300 million in tablets for at home learning in 2020. Management and organization is necessary to keep those assets in good repair and maximize their useful life. When DOE purchases any form of technology, it must meet or exceed accessibility standards. We cannot purchase technology and go back and add accessibility features. We must continue to use technology to expand access to translation services, including in Gen Ed buildings where IEP team meetings take place, so that parents can engage the DOE in their primary language and access to Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices that support the expressive communication of some students with IEPs. We must expand the physical learning infrastructure needed to educate our students, including computers and tablets, WiFi and a more comprehensive parent-friendly SESIS.
Encourage college and job pathways for students with disabilities.
Andrew Yang will emphasize programs, such as Adult Career and Continuing Education Services (ACCESS-VR) that support individuals with disabilities to achieve and maintain employment. Under a Yang administration, the DOE will work with guidance counselors, parent coordinators, school administrators and families to support pathways to both jobs and higher education opportunities for students with disabilities. We will also leverage the city’s 55-a Program to employ students with disabilities through the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities.
Direct the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities (MOPD) and the DOE to publish resource guides.
Families will receive a resource guide when students enter high school to learn about their pathways to graduation and various degrees they can get as well as during their junior year of high school to support their transition out of the DOE. The guides will include the different pathways to graduation and a career, how to access supports such as rehabilitation outside of the public school system, and scholarships and other opportunities for students to pursue.
Expedite DOE building ADA compliance.
In addition to providing a supportive and nurturing curriculum, we must also be attuned to the physical environment of our school buildings. Nearly 30 years after the passage of the ADA, fewer than 25% of DOE schools are fully accessible with three districts having no fully accessible elementary schools. Andrew Yang supports the goal of increasing the number of our schools that are fully ADA accessible. A Yang administration will also use capital dollars to make good on the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic to improve air quality, ensure windows open and close properly and make other physical improvements to make our school buildings healthier and safer. Finally, we must ensure all of our students have access to physical education and opportunities for enrichment and socialization. Andrew Yang will work with the Parks Department and other city agencies on programming.
We should also learn from the ways the City failed students, particularly those with IEPs, over COVID-19. Students with disabilities were turned away from NYC’s free pandemic childcare programs because the system could not accommodate children with special needs. Eventually, the Department of Education laid out concrete steps to accommodate students—but Andrew Yang is frustrated that so many students had to suffer in the process. Moving forward, Andrew Yang will ensure that emergency plans that affect schools always take children with disabilities into account.
By taking these lessons to heart, New York City will be more than ready to propel itself into the future and meet tomorrow’s challenges.