Over 1,200 New York City preschoolers with disabilities did not have a seat in a special education class at the end of last school year, according to a Department of Education data crunch.
Education advocates with the New York City-based nonprofit Advocates for Children determined came up with the number after analyzing a recently published report by the DOE on the status of preschool special education. Department officials are now required to release a data breakdown on preschool education every year on January 15, per a New York City law passed in 2019. But the first of its kind report was posted nearly five months late, according to advocates.
Although federal COVID-19 relief funds will allow Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand pre-k across the city’s school districts this fall, preschoolers with special needs will be again be left behind this year since initiatives to address preschool special education shortages like the creation of more special education classes and hiring more education specialists will not take effect until the 2022-23 school year.
Comfort Mensah, 33, told amNewYork Metro her son, who is on the Autism spectrum, had to wait a year before he was placed in preschool with special education classes.
“The City and State continue to expand prekindergarten while preschoolers with the most significant needs are stuck waiting for seats in violation of their legal rights,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “Parents of students with disabilities want to know why their children always come last.”
“The State and the City must end this civil rights violation,” said Policy Director of Advocates for Children Randi Levine.” As a first step, before the New York State legislative session ends, the State Legislature should take action to help stop preschool special education programs run by community-based organizations from closing—a significant contributing factor to the shortage of seats.” In addition, advocates are urging the City help prevent further seat shortages by approving a salary parity for public preschool special education teachers with pre-k special education teachers at community-based organizations.
“We’re making an historic investment in preschool special education to ensure all children with disabilities have access to a strong start and the programs they need, including high-quality inclusive setting,” said DOE spokesperson Sarah Casasnovas. “This investment will build on the progress we’ve made in recent years to serving our youngest students with disabilities by creating hundreds of new special class seats, hiring additional teachers, and more.”