Countdown to Kindergarten
ONE FAMILY'S JOURNEY WITH A SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD IN NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
More than 200,000 children in New York City Public Schools have special needs. That's a little more than 20 percent. I have followed one mother going through the process of getting her special needs child into the right kindergarten program.
Patricia Piedra waited in the lobby of Brookville Children's Center for her four year old son. Its a private pre-school for children with special needs. Patricia's son, Lukas, was born with a tongue tie, which delayed his speech. Patricia said once Lukas did start talking, he had trouble articulating himself - and he still does. She said before Lukas got regular help, it was hard for him to play with other kids.
"You get to a certain point when the other kids you interact with, they don't know what you're trying to do," Patricia said. "They think that you're going to take their toy away, they think that you're not going to be their friend. So in order to do that, you have communicate with them and tell them, 'hey let's play, let's do something.' He couldn't do that."
Lukas will leave the private pre-school program he's currently enrolled in for a New York City public School in the fall. Patricia and Lukas have been looking at schools all year, preparing for his advancement into kindergarten. As Lukas moves up in school he still has to meet certain benchmarks. Patricia said they're set in what's called an Individualized Education Program.
"Right now his goal would be communicating with his peers and talking about his emotions, so instead of acting out it could come out in a better way."
To meet those needs a Department of Education Psychologist and Lukas' IEP group have determined he needs to be in a class of no more than 12 students, one teacher and one assistant. But Students in the New York City public school system have to be matched with the schools they will attend. It's almost like getting into college and the only thing parents talk about when picking their kids up from school. Students with special needs don't get special treatment. Maggie Moroff with Advocates for Children of New York explained kids can get matched with schools that don't even have the program their IEPs call for.
"Some schools create it, some schools work with the family to think about other ways to address the needs of the student, and some schools just don't," Moroff said. "So families find themselves in schools where the kid isn't getting the services they need."
Moroff said in the case that children don't get the right services, parents need to know their rights.
"A child has the right to be served in their mandated placement, in the placement their IEP team agreed was most appropriate to meet their needs. And if a school doesn't have that placement then the parent has the right to advocate it and to see it come to fruition," Moroff said. "That could be a really hard process."
And parents may never get the program for their child. That's where Patricia Piedra is now. She was considering four schools, but found that PS 98 was the best fit for Lukas. It's not her zoned school, but its three miles away from her house - so it wouldn't be a long bus ride. But PS 98 has told Patricia it doesn't have the program Lukas's IEP requires, even though schools are mandated by law to create a child's program.
"When I was touring the schools, each school told me that they don't have this class and they're not going to make the class," Patricia said. So how are they telling me that they have the services and they're not going to provide them? Everything is miscommunication."
This year's crucial for Lukas. Patricia fears the progress Lukas has made in pre-school will be undone and he won't get the chance to get into a regular sized class of 25 students within the next few years. But Patricia and an evaluation from the DOE have agreed Lukas should receive at least another year of special education to continue his success.
"Now he's succeeding because he was placed in the right classroom, with the right teachers, with the right goals, with the right support. And that's why he's succeeding. But if he wasn't given all these tools, he wouldn't succeed,"
Patricia feels like her backs against the wall. In a statement the DOE said, “We’re committed to meeting the needs of our students with disabilities and to making sure the Turning 5 process helps all students get the services they need in kindergarten. We’re looking into this and will take appropriate follow up action with the school and family.”
Patricia said PS 98 has been telling her it won't create a 12 student class. And the other schools Lukas has gotten into don't have the right programs either and want to put Lukas in a class with 25 other students.
As of now, Lukas is still set to go to PS 98 in September, but Patricia continues to explore options. I'll follow Patricia and Lukas through their journey on the countdown to kindergarten.