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The Cooke Special Education Blog

Cooke faculty share their knowledge to improve the education experience for all children.

Out of his Head... News from Dr. Tabone (December)

Wishes For The Holiday Season

My wish for the holiday season is that all parents attend our transition nights at CCA which occur once a month. The next is January 19th at 6:00 p.m. I wish this because of the ever changing landscape of services available to special education and people with special needs. It is now more important than ever to stay informed. Cooke families and staff must do their best to know what is going on in the city, state, and the world.

What is Happening in New York City?

According to DNA info (Disclaimer, my sister writes for the Queens section) only 56 (out of 480) of the city’s high schools meet the standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act. 61% are partially accessible meaning that certain areas of the school are off limits to those with disabilities. 8 of the high schools that are fully accessible are specialized (like Stuyvesant), so those with physical and cognitive deficits are out of luck.

Amy Zimmer Reports, “Accessibility conditions are so bad in city schools that the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing letter to the DOE last year about their elementary schools being woefully out of compliance with ADA regulations and denying students with disabilities the equal right to access a public education. The DOJ didn't examine high schools, where the compliance rate is even worse.”

In response to the problems, the Department of Education is investing $100 million in the School Capital Plan for accessibility projects, and DOE’s Accessibility Committee is working to make schools more accessible to better serve students with physical disabilities, DOE officials said.

Other studies cite that only about 60% of special education students get the services they require. Based on the available data, at the end of last school year, 5% of the students who were recommended for services, or nearly 9,000 students, were not receiving them at all. Thirty-five percent, or more than 60,000 students, were receiving only some of the services recommended for them. See the report at -

Last month, the city’s public advocate, Letitia James, sued the Education Department, saying that the flaws in the computer system for disability services led to students’ being deprived of services and the city is missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursements.

Mr. Hartfield, an official from the DOE, said in an email that fixing the computer system was “a top priority for the administration,” and that several city agencies — the Education Department, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Information Technology — were working together on a plan. The system was created by the Bloomberg administration for $130 million and implemented in 2011.

In the school year of 14/15, 187,672 students had what are known as individualized education plans, which entitle students to certain special education or related services. The report showed that some groups of students, including Hispanics and those who are still learning English, were overrepresented among the students with such plans. Asian students, by contrast, were significantly underrepresented.

What is Happening in New York State?

On June 14, 2016, the New York Board of Regents voted to ease the requirements for some special education students to earn high school diplomas, part of a series of changes designed to make it easier for students with disabilities to graduate.

New York schools offer two types of diploma. The new regulation concerns local diplomas, which are often earned by students with disabilities and are considered less rigorous than Regents diplomas. Students graduating with either can enter college or the military.

Previously, provisions had been made to allow students with disabilities to earn a local diploma with lower test scores through an appeal process, or use a high score on one Regents exam to make up for a lower score on another exam.

Under the new rule, certain special education students will have their academic record automatically reviewed by district superintendents to determine whether they have shown proficiency in a sufficient number of subjects to earn a local diploma, even if they have not been able to pass three Regents exams.

The new rule goes into effect immediately, so students in the class of 2016 are eligible. However, the option is only available for special education students with an individualized education program (IEP), not Section 504 students. To be eligible, students still must pass the Regents exams in English/language arts and math, earn passing grades in all courses required for graduation, and take — not necessarily pass — the Regents exams in science, social studies and one other optional course.

This doesn’t really affect Cooke students who received a private school diploma (accredited by New York State Association of Independent Schools and Middle States Association). However the future of Regent’s requirements is still being hashed out, so the criteria for special needs students, the standards, and the tone set by the state is still in flux.

What’s Happening in the U.S.?

Betsy DeVos has been nominated for Secretary of Education. She is a big fan of vouchers, and school choice. Maybe this will fare well for Cooke families as they could receive more options when finding schools. Her work in Grand Rapids, Michigan focused on the creation and establishment of a record setting number of Charter schools (privately operated with state funding).

Devos has no formal training in education and has never worked in a school in any capacity. In 2000, Michigan voters rejected an effort led by Betsy and Dick DeVos to change the state’s constitution to allow private school voucher plans that siphoned money away from public schools. But Betsy DeVos has promoted these measures as chair of the American Federation for Children, and the DeVos family has spent millions to push for the expansion of vouchers in other states. The DeVos family’s support for anti-LGBT causes is well-documented. Since 1998, the DeVos family has given more than $6.7 million to Focus on the Family, a group that supports “conversion therapy”—a debunked theory that purports to change the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian individuals that is strongly opposed by the American Psychiatric Association, the Human Rights Campaign, and scores of other medical and civil rights organizations.

Despite her efforts in increasing the number of charter schools the result: Roughly half of Michigan’s charter schools ranked in the bottom quarter of all public schools for academic performance, according to state accountability data from 2013-14. Recent research from Stanford University also found that about eight in 10 Michigan charter schools have academic achievement below the state average for both reading and math. At the same time, Devos argues for deregulation of Charter school accountability to the state.

And The World?

10 years ago the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by 168 countries. What happened? A new analysis of the international rights treaty sought to document how far countries have come in the past 10 years.

Goal: Countries should guarantee the right to quality education at all levels for people with disabilities.

Reality: That right is constitutionally guaranteed in only 28 percent of the 193 countries surveyed.

Goal: Countries should guarantee the right of persons with disabilities to work in an environment that is open, inclusive and accessible.

Reality: Only 18 percent of 193 constitutions guarantee the right of people with disabilities to work.

Goal: Countries should guarantee people with disabilities the right to the highest possible standard of health without discrimination.

Reality: Only 26 percent of 193 constitutions explicitly guarantee the right to health to people with disabilities.

Slow and Steady

Progress is slow, we are fortunate to live in New York which is way ahead of the curve in regards to serving students with special needs, but it is still too little. The country needs to do a lot better. For the 300 Cooke Students I am confident they receive the best services available. The rest of the city has to deal with “hit or miss” performances.

What are you going to do about it? Education is key. Get involved in our transition nights, get involved in local school board meetings, PSA meetings, write letters and stay active in a community that desperately needs our support.

Best Wishes...

On behalf of the entire Cooke staff, I wish you all a wonderful holiday, filled with joy and laughter. I look forward to us continuing our work in the new year, to strengthen acceptance and accessibility for our exceptional community. Cooke Center thrives because of the tireless work and dedication of our staff, our strong partnerships with parents and caregivers and the enormous heart and spirit of our students! All the best to you. See you in the new year"

Posted by rnicholson on Wednesday December 21, 2016 at 06:33PM
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