Felder Criticizes de Blasio Over Special Ed Funding

NEW YORK -
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Felder at a press conference outside City Hall on Tuesday. (Hamodia)

The de Blasio administration has not been meeting its legal requirements to provide mandated funding for special-needs children, alleges state Sen. Simcha Felder, and he urges the mayor to bring the New York City Department of Education into compliance.

The Department has been found to be non-compliant with the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act for years, predating the de Blasio administration, according to an assessment by the state Education Department.

Parents and special-needs school administrators complain of severe delays by the city in meeting deadlines for child assessments and tuition payments, as well as parents being forced to continually re-certify funding for children with permanent conditions, such as severe autism or Down Syndrome.

In 2014, under threat of state legislation that would have withheld education funding to the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio reached a deal with state legislators under which there would be expedited assessments as to whether a child qualifies for funding; the Department would limit paperwork and legal battles over funding and expedite tuition payments.

But Felder says that while the situation improved briefly following that agreement, since 2017 it has regressed, and that he hasn’t even been able to get a meeting with the mayor or Department of Education officials since then.

“Mr. Mayor, you are responsible for this neglect in caring for the most vulnerable in our population,” Felder said Tuesday at a press conference outside City Hall, surrounded by special-needs students, as well as their parents, teachers and administrators. “Mayor de Blasio, keep your promise.”

In letter to the mayor in August – which Felder recently published as an ad in Hamodia, under the heading “Mayor de Blasio: STOP LYING!” – Felder said, “Parents of special needs children are encountering more difficulties than ever before.”

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An ad Felder ran in Hamodia last month, criticizing the mayor over special-ed funding.

“The most common concern,” wrote Felder, “is that DOE fails to respond in a timely manner. This appears to be especially true in regard to payments that are due – or more likely overdue. Whether parents are successful at a hearing or agree to a settlement, DOE does not appear to [process] payments to these families for many months or in some cases over a year. This situation persists despite the fact that DOE is legally required to disburse these funds within 30 days. These parents have enough stress without having to bear the tremendous financial burden of paying upfront for their child’s education, hoping DOE will eventually get around to reimbursing them.

“Secondly, cases previously settled for years are now being called to DOE hearings, even though nothing has changed in the case or IEP [Individualized Education Program]. These children carry diagnoses of permanent, pervasive conditions. The emotional toll on parents cannot be overstated; the waste of valuable time and energy, already so overtaxed in families with a special needs child, is unconscionable.”

Mrs. Rickel Geffner, a parent of a special-needs child, who attended the press conference Tuesday, told Hamodia that her case from the 2018-2019 school year was just settled by the DOE, “but they say it still needs four more months to finalize – and only at some point after that can we expect to receive the funds.”

While the hearings are ongoing, Geffner, a Kensington resident whose 12-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome attends a special-needs program at Yeshiva Gan Yisrael, says the school asks parents if they can help lay out the money until the city reimburses it. “Schools have to pay teachers and therapists and staff; they are really struggling,” says Geffner. “And it is a significant financial burden to us parents.”

Geffner also decried the annual Individualized Education Program meeting that students must undergo each year to qualify for funding.

“To go through the whole process every year – the diagnosis of Down Syndrome doesn’t change! Every year, we have to pay lawyers to navigate the system – and this money does not get reimbursed.”

In response to a request for comment from Hamodia, Department of Education spokeswoman Danielle Filson said the de Blasio administration “is committed to ensuring every child can succeed,” and that the accusations contained in the Felder letter do not reflect “the progress we have made to provide students with disabilities the services that they need.”

“We’ve added approximately 250 staff to address the surge in cases and expedite the special education evaluation process for families,” said Filson. “We have also hired over 3,000 special education teachers. The State Education Department is responsible for hiring hearing officers, and we look forward to them identifying more so we can expedite the process even further.”

rborchardt@hamodia.com


Updated Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at 12:42 am .