Lost in a special-ed maze
Special education is failing children in New York City, reports Elizabeth A. Harris in the New York Times.
When “T.J.” was two, his mother realized he wasn’t developing like his twin brother. She called the pediatrician, starting a “troubled journey through the labyrinthine bureaucracy of New York City’s special education system,” writes Harris.
A decade later, T.J. is a friendly 12-year-old boy with a generous smile. He giggles while watching cartoons, always says “please” and “thank you” to his teachers, and he makes his brother laugh with his goofy sense of humor. Even though he has started sixth grade, T.J. still reads at a first-grade level. Instead of composing essays, he struggles with putting sentences together. He forgets to use punctuation.
The system that’s supposed to serve New York City’s 200,000 special-needs students “is awash in delays, misinformation and confusion,” writes Harris. More than 25 percent of students with disabilities didn’t get the specialized instruction to which they were entitled in 2016-17, down from more than 40 percent the year before, New York City education officials admit.
For T.J., recommended services “never materialized,” writes Harris. Re-evaluation deadlines “came and went.”
And even though he has been receiving special education services off and on since he was 2, it wasn’t until he was 12 that his family secured an accurate diagnosis of his problem: mild intellectual disability, a classification that used to be called mental retardation. In the interim, a decade’s worth of interventions and therapy went largely to waste.
T.J.’s parents finally went to Advocates for Children for legal help. When their son was assigned to a low-performing middle school for sixth grade, they demanded the city pay for T.J. to attend “Cooke Grammar School, a private school that specializes in students with special needs,” reports Harris. Thousands of parents hire lawyers to do the same every year. Cooke’s tuition “can cost anywhere from about $45,000 to more than $100,000 a year.”
Georgia runs a “separate and unequal” network of special-education schools that primarily enrolls black boys from low-income families, reports Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker.