Lawmakers protest DOE deals with large agencies for special education

Photo courtesy David Weprin
By Phil Corso

Northeast Queens lawmakers have joined forces with education advocates to protest a city move that they said could cost specialneeds students time in the classroom.

Over the weekend, state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) took to the steps of City Hall in Manhattan alongside other elected officials and Leslie Grubler, founding director of United New York Early Intervention Providers and Parents as Partners, to call on the city Department of Education’s Committee on Pre-School Special Education to reconsider suspending services for students in the city.

“These children need and deserve a continuity of services,” Weprin said. “Disrupting the educational and therapeutic process is not only unfair, but harmful to their overall cognitive development and ability to thrive in an educational environment.”

The city Department of Education did not return calls for comment.

According to Weprin, the city Committee on Pre-School Special Education signed various contracts with large agencies over the summer to provide specialized services to all pre-kindergarten children and began refusing to honor prior agreements or contracts with independent providers arranged by parents for their children. The sudden and quiet change, Weprin said, went against previous policy, which allowed parents to choose their children’s providers without any official notification.

“While the New York City DOE engages in the egregious process of transferring children with special needs to large agencies that will provide special education services at a lower cost than the providers they previously contracted with, it is taking away all parents’ rights to choose a provider for their children,” Weprin said. “The NYC DOE is removing city parents from this important decision-making process.”

Grubler joined with Weprin and other elected officials, including Assemblymen Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Jim Brennan (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), to call on the city to put the power of choice back into parents’ hands. She said the quiet shift in policy has left some students in the dark, who are currently not receiving services and losing out on time in the classroom.

“When a parent of a special-needs child finds a provider who through their talents and giftedness enables progress in their child, they don’t want to let him or her go because they know the difference between hope and hopelessness,” Grubler said. “They know the difference between being a partner in therapy and standing alone, and they know the difference that meaningful intervention has on their child, his or her siblings, and their family.”

The United New York Early Intervention Providers and Parents as Partners is a coalition formed April 15, 2010, to represent the needs of independent contractors, parents, small agencies and children in need of early intervention services as they move through the educational process.

Weprin said an online petition circulated by Grubler’s advocacy group urging the city to reverse the change in policy has collected more than 3,000 signatures.

“We will not allow the DOE to make unilateral decisions that so clearly endanger the well-being of our children and their right to equitable educational opportunities,” Weprin said. “This is not about dollars and cents. This is about doing what is right by our youngest citizens.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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