Families get cut off from special-ed services
By Sarina Trangle
For the first time in three years, Casey Taggart isn’t receiving the therapy required for his cerebral palsy.
Last week, the occupational, physical and speech therapists scheduled to serve the 3 1/2-year-old Riverdalian pulled their services because they were afraid they would not be paid for providing them.
That’s how his mother Abby Lester learned that the DOE Committee on Preschool Special Education hadn’t sorted out the details related to its growing reliance on agencies to provide special education teachers, counselors, therapists and aides to students who need them.
In the past, the DOE used a small group of agencies to provide special education services and supplement DOE staff. But when three-year agency contracts expired on Aug. 31, the DOE more than doubled the number of organizations it uses for that purpose. The DOE says doing this will allow the city to hold special education personnel more accountable and standardize coverage.
By expanding the number of agencies that provide these services, the DOE said it hopes to minimize the number of families whose needs cannot be accommodated and are then entitled to vouchers or independent agreements to pay for outside providers.
Starting Sept. 1, the DOE began pairing parents up with staff from 90 agencies tasked with accommodating their child’s Individual Educational Program, according to DOE CEO of Special Education Policy Elana Sigall. If three agencies fail to meet a child’s needs — as opposed to the previous two-agency limit — the DOE will give families the green light to hire independent therapists.
But as of the second week of school, Ms. Lester and several Riverdale families who use independent providers continue to live without the services they rely on.