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NYC Denies Nearly 9K Kids With Disabilities The Services They Need

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Public Advocate Letitia James

The city is illegally denying necessary services to thousands of students with disabilities — and the poorest kids get cheated the most often, according to advocates and data the Daily News obtained.

As of May, 8,854 public school students with disabilities were lacking services such as speech therapy, physical therapy and counseling, according to figures the city Education Department supplied.

State law requires city schools provide supports for students, and those services are spelled out in the kids’ medical treatment plans. But in thousands of cases, schools do not have the facilities or staff to deliver mandated services.

The city’s data show students from underserved districts in South Bronx and Brooklyn are most likely to be deprived of the services they need to learn in comfort and safety.

“Services are hard to come by, especially in hard-to-staff schools, especially in districts in Bronx,” said Ellen McHugh, who serves on the City Wide Council of Special Education.

She said schools often lack therapists, and parents struggle to navigate the city’s complex system for disabled students’ Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs.

The problem is most acute in poor districts such as Bronx District 9, where 856 kids with disabilities were not getting their needed services as of May.

By way of comparison, in Manhattan’s relatively affluent District 1, only 67 students were missing the treatments they needed, the city’s figures show.

Critics have blasted the Education Department for years because many kids with disabilities never get the help they need to learn.

In 2016, Public Advocate Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the city for failing to provide disabled students with mandated supports.

In July, advocates slapped the city with another suit for failing to provide services to hundreds of Bronx kids with disabilities.

Bronx mom Lisanne Cruz, 37, fought for years to obtain services for her daughter, Cameron Gervasi, 17, who has autism and pervasive developmental delays. Cameron’s IEP says she was supposed to get behavioral therapy, but Cruz said she never did.

As a result, the girl’s behavior interfered with her learning and she refused to get on her school bus, Cruz said. In June 2015, she stopped attending school altogether.

“The education system failed my daughter,” Cruz said. “It’s been a nightmare. She didn’t receive anything she was supposed to receive. They basically forgot about her.”

Cruz said Cameron would most likely move this fall to a New Jersey residential facility for students with disabilities.

Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator for Advocates for Children of New York, said suffering often awaits students like Cameron who miss out on mandated services.

“This is a big deal,” Moroff said. “If a kid isn’t getting those services, then they’re having trouble. They’re not going to be able to participate in things like reading and writing.”

Education Department spokeswoman Toya Holness said the city hired 700 staff clinicians over the past three years to provide students with therapy.

“We are dedicated to meeting the needs of students with disabilities,” she said.

“The percentage of students receiving their recommended related services increased to 95% during school year 2016-17, up from 84% five years ago.”

Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio, said, “We are working with the DOE to ensure the needs of all NYC students are met.”

 

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Public Advocate Letitia James