Schools Chancellor David C. Banks today announced the completion of Reimagining Special Education, the first report created by the New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) Special Education Advisory Council.
The Special Education Advisory Council, first announced in December 2022, has spent their first year analyzing the current state of special education in New York City and identifying gaps in services and programming.
This report provides an overview of their findings, as well as recommendations to improve special education at NYCPS.
The five key recommendations of the report are:
- NYC Public Schools must be intentionally designed to be fully inclusive and interdependent.
- NYC Public Schools must take steps to reimagine general education. General education classes must be restructured so students with disabilities can receive targeted instruction and support in the general education context.
- Strengthen trust between schools and families.
- Prioritize investments in public school programs, close to students’ homes, that promote inclusion and result in strong student outcomes.
- Shift mindsets, foster organization-wide, anti-ableist culture, and incorporate the perspectives of those with lived experiences.
“Every child deserves access to a high-quality education in their own community,” said Schools Chancellor David C. Banks. “We are taking these recommendations to heart, and we are proud of the steps we have already taken toward achieving our goal of a more inclusive school system.”
NYCPS has already begun to take steps to address the report’s significant emphasis on creating more inclusive schools.
With one in every 36 children receiving an autism diagnosis in the United States, NYCPS is prioritizing investments to support autistic children in the context of local, neighborhood schools.
First, NYCPS is expanding access to specialized programs for autistic students within community districts. Beginning in school year 2024-25, all students on the autism spectrum entering kindergarten in districts 5, 12, and 14 will be offered seats in high-demand, high outcome autism programs close to their homes and connected with their communities, based on their needs as determined during the kindergarten IEP process.
This expansion will add four new Autism Nest programs, 12 Autism Horizon programs, and 8 AIMS programs, serving 160 total students across the three districts.
These specific programs have demonstrated success, with 95 percent of Autism Nest and Horizon participants ultimately graduating from high school.
Family engagement and communication is critical to successful implementation of these programs. NYCPS will be expanding upon an existing partnership with INCLUDEnyc to enhance the IEP Parent Member role, which supports families through the IEP process.
Through this partnership, NYCPS will be able to ramp up recruitment efforts, increase the frequency of trainings, and support outreach to staff and families to ensure broad awareness of these resources.
Additionally, NYCPS is releasing the new Inclusive and Interdependent Language Initiative, a glossary of terms that promotes inclusion and fights ableism.
This effort was spearheaded by two NYCPS alumni with Individualized Education Programs, further centering the lived experiences of students with disabilities within this work.
“I applaud Chancellor Banks for focusing on improving these highly successful specialized programs for students on the autism spectrum. Expanding ASD Nest, Horizon, and AIMS programs will enable many more students to learn academically and develop the social/emotional and communication skills they will need to become employed at levels commensurate with their abilities. The need for these programs are particularly profound in communities of color. Helping kids learn and reach their full potential is a matter of social justice,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.
“As a parent of a 21-year-old son who attends a District 75 program and a professional at INCLUDEnyc, my heart is full of hope with these new inclusive practices, policies, and programs,” said Lori Podvesker, Director of Disability and Education Policy, INCLUDEnyc. “As a result of mechanisms put in place for schools and communities to better see, hear, and value young people like my son and the hundreds of thousands of others like him, it is a new beginning in New York City.”
“The emphasis on improved inclusiveness that the NYCPS is rolling out today includes some promising steps towards making the system one that genuinely welcomes all students with disabilities and their families,” said Maggie Moroff, Senior Special Education Policy Coordinator, Advocates for Children. “The work will need to be ongoing, and the disability community will need a seat at the table throughout. We all have to keep striving towards a time when schools stop making unnecessary referrals to special education, and when all students, regardless of their needs, can get the additional support they need at their local schools or their schools of choice.”
“The investment in specialized autism programs in historically disenfranchised communities along with a development of parent advocacy programs to support families through the IEP process is the thoughtful, double pronged approach advocates like myself have always dreamed about,” said Paullette Healy, District 75 and Disability Community Advocate. “This initiative marks a new chapter filled with hope and promise for our students with disabilities entering our NYC public schools and for the families who care for them.”
“As a longtime D75 parent leader and community member, I am happy that the struggles of our students and families are finally being prioritized,” said Rima Izquerido, District 75 President Council President and Bronx High School President Council. “The move to build out resources closer to home will help minimize the struggles with transportation and fortify that our students with disabilities are a part of our neighborhoods and not subjected to continued segregation. The road is long ahead of us and I am honored to be part of this new journey.”
“I am elated to read the recommendations in the report of the Special Education Advisory Council,” said Effi Zakry, NYC Panel for Educational Policy. “The recommendations pave a path to an improved learning experience of students with disabilities and facilitates the interactions with their families.”
Special Education Advisory Council
On December 1, 2022, Chancellor David Banks announced plans to form a Special Education Advisory Council to reimagine special education in New York City. The goals of the advisory council were to (1) support the design of a long-term vision for special education in New York City, (2) collect information on student and family experiences to inform planning, (3) generate recommendations for improving special education, and (4) build awareness of special education programs and services.
On February 27, 2023, NYC Public Schools convened a diverse group of stakeholders, including external stakeholders and field personnel, to launch the advisory council.
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