Giving Parents Help, Not the Run Around
The City is failing to provide basic information to parents of
special education students—even ignoring phone calls asking for help.
That’s what a report my
office released last month concluded. The report, Waiting
for Help, found that both
Committees on Special Education (CSE), the Department of Education (DOE)
entities responsible for processing special education cases, and parent
coordinators failed to respond to more than half of nearly 400 requests for
assistance by Public Advocate investigators. Response rates were especially low
for non-English inquiries.
Stories of an unresponsive
DOE are nothing new—especially to parents of children with disabilities.
Just four years ago, as part of its reform of the City’s special
education system, the DOE consolidated the number of administrative bodies
responsible for processing special education cases from thirty-seven committees
to just ten. The consolidated CSEs were redesigned to correspond with the
city’s ten instructional regions. The changes were supposed to help parents of
special education students.
In reality, they did more
harm them good. Most notably, my
office documented a dramatic decrease in the number of evaluations and
re-evaluations processed by the newly consolidated CSEs.
After receiving complaints
from parents and advocates regarding the responsiveness of the CSEs, my office
started making calls to CSEs, posing as parents who needed information about special
education services. We found that calls placed to Committees went unreturned;
reaching an appropriate CSE staff member was next to impossible; investigators
were often unable to leave messages for CSE staff because voicemail systems
were full; and contact information was often wrong or out-of-date.
My office exists to help New Yorkers—especially when they
are having trouble accessing City services. To help parents of children with
disabilities get answers to their questions, I have called on the Department of
Education to implement a series of reforms:
the Responsiveness of New York City’s Committees on Special Education: The
DOE needs a new policy to ensure that the committees return parents’ phone
calls within five business days and that live operators answer phones during
regular business hours.
the Accessibility of New York City’s Committees on Special Education:In many cases, phone numbers on the website were wrong. The DOE needs to ensure that all CSE
phone numbers are working properly and that CSE employees have working
voicemail boxes that are checked frequently.
the Accessibility of the Committees on Special Education to
Non-English-Speakers: If you’re a
parent, you deserve to get answers to your questions – regardless of
whether those questions are in English, Spanish, or any other language. To
provide this service, the DOE needs to contract with a telephone-based
translation service to ensure that all Committees can communicate with
When their children are having problems at school, parents want
help, not the run-around. y not
returning phone calls, the City is failing parents. These common-sense reforms
will help the DOE help parents and students instead of leaving families in the
If you are parent of a child with special needs and you’re
having difficulty obtaining information or services from the DOE, please call
my office at 212.669.7250.#
Gotbaum is the Public Advocate for New York City.