A Parent's Guide to Special Education in New York City and the Metropolitan Area
reviewed by Helene Craner - November 16, 2006
Title: A Parent's Guide to Special Education in New York City and the Metropolitan Area
Author(s): Laurie Dubos and Jana Fromer
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807746851 , Pages: 216, Year: 2006
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Almost no parent of a child with special needs is prepared to make the decisions that must be made in placing his/her child in the appropriate special education setting. They dont bring with them the knowledge, background, and expertise necessary to make difficult educational choices. Yet, out of an often bewildering, complex, and sometimes hazy situation, decisions have to be made that will have a critical impact on the future of their child. Thrust into a world with a whole new vocabulary of disorders, educational approaches, systems acronyms, and into an array of professionals, i.e., learning specialists, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychopharmacologists, speech/language therapists, parents are required to operate in a complex public and private educational system, which is often overwhelming.
This is true for any parent facing the daunting experience of coming to terms with a childs disability and how to best accommodate it, but it is especially challenging for New York City parents where the systems are so complex (more than 160,000 children receiving services through the NYC DOE system in 2005) and more than 60 private schools are specifically developed for children with disabilities. Parents need informationnot only about the educational services available to their children, but also about the process of obtaining those services. They also need to know about their rights under IDEA, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act passed in 1990, and most recently reauthorized in 2004 as the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act (IDEAA) which guarantees children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). To navigate these myriad choices, alternatives, regulations, and funding streams, parents need help.
New York City parents of children with learning, language, emotional, and social disabilities can now turn to the guidebook written from the personal and professional perspectives of the two authors, one a co-founder of a special education school in the city and the other the parent of a child with learning disabilities attending one of those schools. The book is an attempt to demystify the process of finding an appropriate educational placement and to provide a step-by-step guide on how to access one of the citys private special education schools. It is organized into three sections: an overview of the public and private special education system in New York City from kindergarten to Grade 8; a section on what parents need to do to obtain placement in one of the citys private schools (this section contains much useful process information that can be utilized by parents living outside of New York City); and a section of descriptive profiles of 33 of the private schools in New York City and the surrounding area. There is also a resource section that includes lists of evaluation centers, therapists, medical professionals, attorneys, after-school programs, and summer camps, as well as recommended websites and several appendices (again which would be useful to parents living outside of New York City).
The book is clearly written from the parents perspective; parents of students in private special education were surveyed about what to include in the resource section, the painful journey of recognizing and coming to accept the reality of having a child who is not developing typically is acknowledged, and it is made clear that parents have the ultimate responsibility to keep track of all the multiple evaluations, reports, and paperwork generated by a child with special needs. Yet the message is one of help and support from the professional community: Your childs best advocate is you, and you will benefit from as much knowledge and support as you can gather from the medical professionals, teachers, and therapists who work with or evaluate your child. Guiding you through the process of placement in special education is truly a collaborative experience (p. 16).
Part I of the book, the Overview of Special Education begins with a brief description of the process of children entering school age special education through the citys regional Committees on Special Education (CSE)both for children already receiving services through pre-school special education Committees on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) and for children already in public schools who have not yet been identified.
The section on referral and evaluation contains some valuable information including the acknowledgement of the difficulty of the transition process from the citys preschool special education system to the school age system requiring parental vigilance and knowledge about timelines for meetings and reports. Yet because this book is focused on access to private schools, the process of entering public special education is not described in great detail. Parents should know that there are several advocacy groups offering workshops on this process and the New York City Department of Education regions are now also offering open houses and meetings specifically focusing on this turning five process.
This section also has a brief and understandable description of the some of the tests that are required by the private schools, including the difference between a neuropsychological and a psychoeducational evaluation. Again, the emphasis is on the tests that private schools need so the book differentiates between the usefulness of the evaluations that are done through the public system and the evaluations done by private practitioners. Parents should also note that many private schools also require projective tests in addition to the tests mentioned in the book.
The description of the educational classifications includes not only the specific disability definitions taken from the Part 200 Regulations of the Commissioner of Education (New York State Law, Section 4401, Part 200), but more significantly, the importance of those classifications for accessing programs and services. The book offers a detailed description of how a childs classification may change over time and why certain classifications may open up doors to more private schools. It also makes the important distinction between an educational classification and a medical or psychiatric diagnosis. So many parents are reluctant to have their child classified as emotionally disturbed since they think it implies either acting-out behavior or a psychiatric disorder, yet the book points out the classification of Emotionally Disturbed also includes children who are emotionally fragile, withdrawn, or socially immature, and therefore require a smaller teacher/student ratio in a classroom for learning (p. 28).
Section II, Private School Placement contains useful information that parents both inside and outside New York City will greatly appreciate. The attention to detail about the process of identifying a school, the application process, the interaction between all the parties (current school administration, childrens therapists both inside and outside the school) as well as all the stepsfrom the initial parental request for an application, school tours and open houses, the parental and child interview, to the final notification of acceptance or rejectioncan be utilized by parents of children with special needs living anywhere. The checklists about how to determine if a school is appropriate for a child; what to include in the application packet; the list of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors of parents during school tours and interviews; the list of questions parents should and should not ask; and the sound advice about preparing the child for the school visit and interview are presented with compassion for parents and an understanding of the needs of school administrators.
Section IIIthe actual school profilesoffer a good place to start the investigation of individual schools. Yet it is hard to determine how this particular group of schools was chosen for inclusion in the book, since there are a number of schools, particularly those serving children on the autism spectrum, children with mental retardation, or children with multiple disabilities, that were left out. It also would have been interesting to know how the descriptions of the schools programs were obtained. Were they taken primarily from information submitted by the schools, from direct observation, or both? There is some misinformation about ages served and whether or not the school is funded for NYC residents, but by and large, the information is accurate. And the book does not account for the great variation in the depth of detail about each school.
Despite the descriptions of the schools, it is still difficult to ascertain exactly what the school population is. Though each school profile has a list of the educational classifications accepted, there is no delineation between primary and secondary disability. A simple description of the profile of a typical student would have been a great asset in helping parents to determine which schools would be the most appropriate for their child.
The book concludes with a resource section that includes a list of individual professionals serving the special needs childrens community as well as a selective list of other relevant local resources. As this is by no means an exhaustive list of either people or programs, parents should know that there are other materials and agencies they can contact for additional information.
The authors have done an admirable job of beginning to map a complex system for parents of children with disabilities in the elementary and middle school years. Yet, the book would have served more parents if the authors had extended the scope of their work to include the process of transition from the world of Early Intervention (children with disabilities zero-three) as they moved into the world of pre-school special education (CPSE). In addition, there could also have been a description of the services and accommodations available to children with disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehab Act of 1973 in public schools and in mainstream private schools. And finally, parents must be alerted to the fact that the book was published before the final regulations under IDEAA were issued by the federal government and by New York State, resulting in several significant changes in the process of obtaining services. Parents need to educate themselves about the implications of these changes either by consulting some of the education websites or advocacy groups mentioned in the appendix of the book.
New York City Department of Education website, http://www.nycenet.edu
New York State Education Department website, http://www.vesid.nysed.gov