I was fortunate enough to attend a Speak Out event in the Bronx this past Thursday evening that was co-sponsored by the ARISE Coalition and Parents for Inclusive Education (PIE). These advocacy groups are working hard to ensure that NYC special ed students get the appropriate and free public education that they are entitled to by law, and they have recently hosted public forums for parents in all five boroughs.
As a special needs parent myself, I’ve often wondered how other New York City families, especially those with fewer resources, cope with an autistic or developmentally delayed child. My husband and I both have college degrees and English is our first language, and we still have trouble reading an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), which is often more complicated than a tax form. We have made it our business to seek out the best resources to help us navigate the DOE and ultimately to get Brooks the services he needs. We’ve been fortunate in that the countless hours we’ve committed to our son’s education have paid off. But for those who lack higher education and often don’t speak the language—not to mention, don’t have the time to devote to the process —not only does the diagnosis often come later, which makes everything more difficult, they are frequently left to fend for themselves in terms of advocating for their children. Thanks to the efforts of groups like ARISE, the families I met on Thursday night are getting the assistance they desperately need.
Single-digit temperatures did not deter these Bronx parents from taking advantage of the opportunity to tell their stories, and many spoke of their heartbreaking attempts to do right by their children.
“Why is my son not receiving physical therapy?” That’s what one committed mom asked the teachers and administrators at her son’s school. They responded that even though physical therapy was on her son’s IEP, it was not available at their school, and they referred her to the district. The district’s response was that he is indeed getting physical therapy. He is indeed getting physical therapy?!
Whether these kinds of bureaucratic exchanges are a result of bad record-keeping, which the DOE openly admits to with respect to special education records, or bald-faced lies, which is the interpretation of this Bronx mom, the bottom line is that a public school child who requires physical therapy as an integral part of his education is not getting it.
Other parents spoke of long automated phone calls to the DOE that provided nothing more than numbers to press for information they already had. They spoke of teachers who gave up on kids as soon as they heard the word “autism.” They spoke of high-functioning children with autism coming home from school beaten up because they had been placed in classes with violent, emotionally disturbed children.
What was remarkable about the evening is that regardless of how horrible these stories were, they were underscored by hope. These parents didn’t hesitate to remind each other that there are some really good teachers out there. Even though more than one speaker recommended that the CSE (Committee for Special Education) in the Bronx be shut down and then rebuilt from scratch, they all believed that this system could somehow be saved, and that they could help to make that happen.
Unfortunately, the one representative from the Office of Special Education Initiatives that attended the meeting left well before many of the parents had a chance to speak.
At the start of the meeting, AHRC and PIE advocate Chris Trieber encouraged parents to get up and speak in order to dispute this quote from the DOE: “90 percent of parents are satisfied with the quality of education their children received.” Near the end of the meeting, one parent responded: “Maybe they should change that to 90 percent of parents are NOT satisfied.”