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Parents and politicians pressure NYC schools to help students with disabilities


Yuvania Espino and her daughter Mia, 9, who has cerebral palsy, is pictured at Public School 138 in Harlem (Courtesy, Yuvania Espino)

Parents of public school kids with disabilities will join politicians Monday to push for new laws to fix troubled systems that have left about 39,000 children without legally mandated services.

Council Education Chair Mark Treyger is holding the hearing to talk about four proposed laws, including bills to force the Education Department to reveal where it’s not providing needed help to disabled students. A separate resolution calls on the city to hire a compliance czar to oversee those services for disabled students in public schools.

The push comes in the wake of data published last November that revealed roughly 22% of more than 220,000 disabled public school children aren’t getting the help they need — including tutoring, therapy and adaptive technology.

“We were never able to give her a fair show because the services weren’t available,” Yuvania Espino of Manhattan said of her 9-year-old daughter Mia, who has cerebral palsy and a muscular disorder — and won’t graduate from PS 138 in Harlem on time next year because she never had a specialized academic curriculum or access to a therapeutic gym.

“We’re hoping that someone in a supervisory role can make sure these things happen,” said Espino, who will testify at Monday’s event. “These are problems that need to be fixed and not be put on the back burner.”

Council member Mark Treyger
Council member Mark Treyger (William Alatriste / /New York City Council)

City Education Department officials have been under fire for failing to adequately support students with disabilities, and who lag behind their peers when it comes to reading, math and graduating on time.

And though Mayor de Blasio dedicated $300 million in additional funding in his latest city budget proposal to address the issue, experts say the money alone isn’t enough.

“In addition to more resources, we need a clearer and empowered chain of command that will better ensure accountability for our students,” said Treyger, a Brooklyn Democrat who previously worked as a public school teacher.

Advocates for Children Policy Coordinator Randi Levine said children with disabilities were three times more likely to fail state reading exams compared with their peers in 2018.

“Only 16.8 percent of students with disabilities scored proficient — that’s a 40-point gap compared to their non-disabled peers,” Levine said. “The vast majority of kids with disabilities are not being taught to read sufficiently.”

City Education Department spokeswoman Danielle Filson said the city has improved some outcomes for disabled students, citing a graduation rate that’s gone up to 50.4% in 2018 from 30.5% in 2012.

Filson also pointed out the department has a deputy chief academic officer charged with monitoring special education and student services.

“We are committed to meeting the needs of our students with disabilities, and we’ve hired 4,300 more special education staff, and added and strengthened programs across our schools,” Filson said. “We’ve made progress, but we know there’s more work to do.”