According to a new report from the organization known as Advocates for Children, nearly ten thousand disabled preschoolers in New York City didn’t receive services to which they were legally entitled last school year.
The report found that 37% of all disabled preschoolers in New York City, or 9,800, went the entire 2021-2022 school year without receiving a single session of service that the education department is legally required to provide them, such as speech, occupational or physical therapy, or visits from a special education teacher.
The startling data come as Mayor Eric Adams has prioritized disabled students in his education agenda. Adams promised to increase the number of special education preschool spaces in the city so that every child has one. Unfortunately, he has not met this goal, with 300 children still waiting for a seat.
However, programs such as speech therapy or an itinerant special education teacher reach hundreds of additional children with disabilities who can be serviced in regular education classrooms.
Last year, 6,500 students who required speech therapy received no sessions. Advocates argue that this does not reflect the true scope of the problem because the DOE considers a child “fully” served if they have received just one session.
That means children like Abraham Bell-Lopez, aren’t counted in the data. His parents spent months trying to have their son evaluated after his pediatrician noticed he was having difficulty enunciating. In January, it was determined that Abraham should receive speech therapy twice weekly.
Abraham has not received any speech therapy in school. His father, Jordan Bell, has emailed the Department of Education weekly. No speech-language pathologists are available to come to his son’s preschool, according to multiple emails Bell has received from the Department of Education.
The New York City Department of Education is required by law to give Abraham the services indicated on his IEP — and to do so in the least restrictive environment possible, he should receive speech therapy during the school day at his Brooklyn preschool.
Instead, after months without therapy, the school system provided him with weekend sessions in Manhattan. He’s only had three sessions this year. However, it takes an hour to get there and an hour to arrive home, according to Abraham’s father, Jordan.
Disabled students should be able to have access to the resources they need. In the U.S., disabled students have the right to receive a free appropriate public education. However, in many cases, schools aren’t equipped to provide resources. When there isn’t enough support, disabled students often fall through the cracks.
Jorgensen, Jillian. Report: Nearly 10,000 Disable Students Did Not Get Services, 6 June 2023, http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/education/2023/06/05/report–nearly-10-000-disable-students-did-not-get-services.
Rozalski, Michael, et al. “Free Appropriate Public Education, the U.S. Supreme Court, and Developing and Implementing Individualized Education Programs.” Laws, vol. 10, no. 2, May 2021, p. 38. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3390/laws10020038.