New York State Sen. Simcha Felder is calling for New York City to quickly reopen all special-needs classes in public schools.
“Remote learning is failing many students with special education needs,” Felder wrote in a letter Tuesday to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Without hands on instruction provided by teachers and therapists, they are suffering from educational neglect.”
All public schools closed last week, after New York City’s metrics showed that the city had reached a 7-day rolling average of 3% COVID-test positivity rate. While state metrics have the city at a lower positivity rate, once the state’s metrics show that the city has a 7-day rolling average of 3% COVID-test positivity rate for ten straight days, the entire city would become an “orange zone,” which would force the immediate closure of all schools, among other restrictions. Schools could then reopen once they institute a rigorous testing protocol, which includes testing every student and staff member before reopening, and then testing 25% of the school population every week thereafter.
Based on the data trend, officials have been warning that New York City will soon become an orange zone. De Blasio reiterated Tuesday at his daily coronavirus briefing, “We’re going to be in an orange zone in December.”
Once the city is designated an orange zone and begins implementing the testing protocol to reopen the schools, the mayor said that special-education schools, known as District 75, will be the first to reopen, followed by Pre-K, 3-K, and elementary.
However, there are special-needs students – including those who attend yeshiva and other private schools – who get special-education programs in non-District 75 public schools. In a letter Tuesday to de Blasio, Felder is asking for these programs to get similar priority in reopening.
Noting that remote classes are of limited value to special-needs students, the senator wrote that “in-person services are vital to their education and New York City’s failure to provide them will have enduring repercussions. Heartbreaking requests from parents of children with Autism, Down syndrome and other special learning needs are flooding my office. School closures pose an unprecedented challenge to everyone, but special needs students are bearing the greatest burden.”
“As reopening plans are underway,” Felder wrote, “we must ensure that in-person education is a safe reality for all of NYC’s special needs students immediately.”
In response to Hamodia’s query Tuesday as to whether special-needs programs in non-District 75 schools will get priority in reopening, City Hall spokesperson Avery Cohen said, “We know remote learning, a reality all our families are grappling with due to the global pandemic, can be especially challenging for families of students with disabilities. Health and safety come first, priorities we know our elected officials and families share, and we’re doing everything we can to safely offer in-person services as quickly as possible.”
Updated Tuesday, November 24, 2020 at 8:12 pm .