For the past 10 years, Long Island students with disabilities from as far as Suffolk County have been sent to New York City, Westchester and out-of-state schools. Educational approval by the State Education Department (SED) is required to reimburse school districts for New York State students with disabilities. In fact, there is a form entitled “Notice of Commissioner’s Approval for Reimbursement,” which is submitted by every school district for every child with a disability. According to SED there is no need on Long Island for special education expansions to accommodate the increasing number of students with disabilities. In essence, these children do not exist. It’s magic!
Special education programs on Long Island have been forced to turn children away when they had openings because of program CAPs. To keep the Long Island programs small, students with disabilities were and still are being sent off Long Island. The question is how many children are being sent off Long Island on an annual basis? Well, try to find out.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, documents were obtained – not easily – to determine where Long Island students were actually going. But, even now, it is still impossible to determine the actual number of Long Island students being sent off Long Island. Why?
The plight of Long Island children has not gone unnoticed by members of the New York State Legislature. Parents along with special education programs have petitioned their legislators on this issue for years. Applications have been submitted to the State Education Department with letters of support from superintendents, chairpersons of committees on special education, elected officials and parents. Nevertheless, consistently since 1997, Long Island programs have been denied expansions. The impact has been devastating since parents and children have been and still are being denied educational opportunities close to home.
Documents show that many students from as far as Suffolk County and from almost every district in Nassau County send students with disabilities off Long Island. What options do they have when Long Island programs are CAPPED by SED? Educational options have been limited by CAPs even when increasing numbers of children with autism spectrum disorders need services. Either parents are being forced to accept whatever is “open” on Long Island or search for New York City, Westchester and out-of-state schools.
The letters from parents to the State Education Department supporting expansions of Long Island schools are heart wrenching. The letters from legislators who are our elected officials to SED are disturbing. When legislators do not have an impact on a state agency on behalf of their constituents, it is frightening.
The fact that the State Education Department is independent, autonomous and immune to the needs of parents, school districts and legislators is indicative of a lack of accountability. There is “need” on Long Island. The question is what will be the consequences when more people begin to realize the extent of the problem on Long Island? Given the nature of the cover-up and the children that have been affected by a policy, which was developed without public hearings, the concern is daunting. Who is going to “fix” this? How much longer will children and parents have to wait for services on Long Island? Will the next commissioner have the vision to admit the grievous wrongs that have been committed and the courage to change the culture within the agency so this never happens again? How many children from Long Island are being sent to New York City, Westchester and out-of-state schools?
You try and find out! Watch for the “smoke and mirrors!”