New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams spoke at a hearing with the Committee on Education, highlighting what he said are failures of the Department of Education (DOE) in their abilities to meet the needs of disabled students.
Williams discussed the consequences of inadequate services and inaccessible infrastructure for students while pushing for passage of his legislation which would require the DOE to report annually on how many indoor and outdoor school facilities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The accessibility of our school buildings is embarrassingly lacking,” said Public Advocate Williams during the hearing Sept 21. “For disabled students, picking a high school means not only considering their choices based on academics and their interests, but finding out whether they can fit into bathroom stalls, use water fountains, if they have access to an elevator, or whether the school can provide the services mandated by their IEPs (Individualized Education Program). With their options drastically limited, it is no surprise that only 58 percent of students with disabilities graduated from high school last year, compared to 81 percent citywide.”
Additionally, Williams emphasized the insufficiencies of DOE transportation and remote learning options during the height of the pandemic, saying the reports required by his legislation would be invaluable to students with disabilities and their families.
“The education disruption of the pandemic and remote learning has been hard on all of our students, but especially those with disabilities,” said Williams. “We must be doing everything we can to ensure that disabled students are provided with equitable, high-quality education with all of the support they need to succeed and thrive.”
Following Williams’ testimony at the hearing, advocate and parents of two students with IEPs, Jennifer Choi testified at an oversight hearing discussing the needs of all students with disabilities.
Choi discussed other obstacles within the DOE which she says are discouraging disabled students from engaging and accessing education including the lack of protocols to determine whether or not a student is missing classes due to a disability.
“If you look at the DOE’s guide to combat chronic absenteeism, called Every Student Every Day, there is no specific protocol to investigate whether or not the student is missing school due to disability nor is there guidance to engage with the school’s disability support teams to properly assess and address how the student is not accessing a free and appropriate public education,” said Choi. “In some cases, like my child’s, they can no longer attend public school and require expensive therapeutic settings after months or years of failure and trauma. I know we can do better.”