At a City Hall press conference yesterday afternoon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined specific details of the changes he and the city’s Department of Education are pledging to implement by September 1 of this year in dealing with cases of special needs children whose parents enroll them in private schools.
The new policy, outlined in a press release issued by the Mayor’s office, came about as a result of an agreement between the Mayor and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to table proposed state legislation on the subject so as to give the city an opportunity to address on its own the inequities and inefficiencies of the existing system. As detailed in the press release issued last week by Agudath Israel of America upon the initial announcement of the agreement, the proposed legislation had already passed in the State Senate under the sponsorship of Senator Simcha Felder, and was poised to move forward in the State Asssembly under the sponsorship of Assemlywoman Helene Weinstein, when Speaker Silver and Mayor de Blasio reached their agreement.
Under the new city policy, the Mayor said at today’s press conference, settlements of parents’ claims for private school tuition reimbursement will be expedited, the city
will refrain from relitigating settled or decided cases unless there is a change in the child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program), parents will have to present full documentation of their child’s case only once every three years rather than annually, and tuition reimbursement payments will be expedited considerably.
Mrs. Leah Steinberg, director of Agudath Israel’s special education division (Project Learn), who has played a lead role over several years in fighting for greater efficiency and fairness in the city’s special education system, thanked the legislative leaders and city officials who helped make this historic development happen, as well as the Orthodox Union, the Catholic Conference and other groups and individual activists for their key role in promoting reform.
“It is so exciting to be able to bring this wonderful news to parents of special needs children! Some have struggled with these issues for years, and it is refreshing to hear Mayor de Blasio declare ‘we give our word in front of all of you…we want to clean our own house and will prove it through our actions’. This demonstrates a new level of empathy and understanding and we look forward to September, when we will see this new policy in action. We are confident that it will enable parents to focus on raising their children and helping them thrive, instead of devoting their energies to litigating a repeat of the previous years.” said Mrs. Steinberg.
Chaskel Bennett, member of the Board of Trustees of Agudath Israel of America said, “After three long years in the legislative trenches, we finally see a glimmer of hope for the special needs families that need it the most. This landmark agreement between Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Silver would not have been possible without the partnership of our allies in the legislature. In particular the heroic speech given by Senator Simcha Felder on the floor of the Senate and Assembly Member Helene Weinstein’s determination to see this legislation through to its completion were a major force. They and their colleagues are deserving of enormous appreciation for getting us to this day.”