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New York's Plan to Mainstream Special Ed Students Gets Off to a Rocky Start

Special education students are being placed in mainstream classrooms -- but with little apparent support for either teachers or students.

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“But that’s because this school is keeping the status quo,” the teacher said in an interview. “The principal has decided not to change anything.”

The teacher said she didn’t want to see the city roll back the reforms, just create a more robust system to watch over the schools. Rello-Anselmi said each network should have a special education coach trained to help schools “look at the classes, see the needs, and decide what extra resources are needed.”

“The monitoring, it’s not happening,” said the teacher. “When you tell me the network is in charge of managing how the children are getting the services that they need, I’m sorry. … [Schools need] a person who will actually go to the school and say, let me see your program, let me see what you’re really doing.”

When Rello-Anselmi first took overt the special education portfolio at the department, she predicted a “rocky” fall as the reforms rolled out. But so far, she said on Thursday, the number of complaints her office has received so far is small. She said parents with concerns should report them through 311, the city’s public information system, because those messages are routed directly to her office.

“When advocates bring cases to us, or elected officials, or a parent, what we do is we bring it right to the network, and the Office of School Support,” she explained. “We work closely with them to resolve any issue. And we have found out that if there is anybody not responsive, we’ve been holding feet to the fire.”

Rachel Cromidas joined the staff of GothamSchools in 2011. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she has written about education, urban affairs, and culture for the New York Times, the Chicago News Cooperative, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and others.