NY Senate Passes Bill Easing Access To Special Ed

ALBANY -

Following an impassioned speech by state Sen. Simcha Felder, the New York Senate on Monday passed a bill to force New York City to comply with federal rules, empowering Orthodox parents in their fight for educationally-appropriate placements in special education for their children.

This is the third attempt in three years to resolve legislatively the problem parents have in sending their children to a school that is appropriate for them. The bill, which is now headed to the Assembly, also forces the city to answer within 90 days if they agree to the parents’ choice of school — a major step toward clarifying the child’s status.

Currently, parents do not know the outcome of their request for placement until May or even later, in a year that began the previous September. This means that parents are unsure if they will have to pay tuition until close to the year’s end.

The bill also requires that any
settlement or determination by a court in favor of the parents’ placement set forth the timeline for making payments and include the amount of the payment.

This time, said Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who is the bill’s main Senate sponsor, the governor’s office was involved in drafting the legislation and he has been working closely with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, making it a near certainty that it will be enacted by June and go into effect immediately.

The Assembly sponsor is Helene Weinstein, a longtime Democrat who represents a heavily Jewish district in Flatbush.

Prior to the bill’s passage, Felder delivered a rare speech on the Senate floor, drawing an ovation from fellow lawmakers.

“It is disturbing to hear some legislators talk about the cost of special ed,” Felder said. “It could cost $2 million or $2 billion or $7trillion. You know what 7 trillion is? The tears of a parent who has to go through the torture year after year after year.”

After the address, Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) got up and announced that the speech convinced him to change his vote from a no to a yes.

The bill was proposed at the urging of Agudath Israel to benefit Jewish families who are concerned over cultural factors — there are about 1,000 such families in New York City who use these services. It also helps other special-needs children who require smaller class sizes than in public school, or who need a particular type of service.

The bill was passed by both chambers in 2012 but was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It was designed to be revenue-neutral — it merely solves a bureaucratic headache for parents — but critics, such as cities and school districts, claimed that it would open the door for children previously unqualified for special-ed services to enter the system.

The state bill was revised to make it applicable only to cities “having a population of one million or more.” The only city that this affects is New York City, since no other municipality has such a large population.

The vast majority of special needs children in the state are in New York, according to Sen. John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican who is a co-sponsor.