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Chancellor Banks Announces a Path Forward for Transforming and Rebuilding Trust in Special Education in NYC Public Schools

  • Posted: Thu Dec 01, 2022

Scaling and sustaining of four special education programs with track records of success – Sensory Exploration, Education & Discovery (SEED), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Nest and Horizon, and Path Programs – with an investment of $205 million, will re-imagine the education experience and prioritize wellness for students with disabilities. Re-imagining the student experience by providing a new, paid internship program for high school students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in the fields of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. The newly created Special Education Advisory Council will engage families and the community to be true partners in boldly reimagining special education.

NEW YORK – Schools Chancellor David C. Banks today announced a path forward for transforming and rebuilding trust in the city’s programs serving students with disabilities. The Chancellor’s path forward for special education in NYC Public Schools includes the sustaining and scaling of four successful and innovative programs serving students with disabilities across the city, the creation of a new paid internship program for high school students in Occupational, Physical and Speech Therapy for students with IEPs, as well as empowering the community and families through the creation of a new advisory council that will make bold recommendations on reimagining special education in New York City Public Schools.

“Our students with disabilities and their families deserve public schools that can meet their unique needs and prepare young people for bold futures – regardless of disability status. Our dedicated educators and staff work every day to serve students with disabilities, yet our system has not fully delivered on our commitment to these students. We need to transform our systems and approaches to achieve the goal of a truly inclusive public school system,” said Schools Chancellor David C. Banks. “I am proud to share that we are making strides towards this goal with the expansion of these successful programs serving students with disabilities across the city. However, our work doesn’t stop here. The new Special Education Advisory Council will empower our family and advocacy community to share their insight and support us in radically transforming the school experience for everyone.”  

The path forward is directly aligned with the Chancellor’s four pillars for NYC Public Schools, which include reimagining the student experience; scaling, sustaining and restoring what works; prioritizing wellness and its link to student success; and empowering families to be our true partners.

Empowering Families to be Partners in Building a Better Special Education System

The Special Education Advisory Council will support NYC Public Schools in collaboratively recommending priority investments aimed at ensuring our students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and their families have access to the programs and services needed to prepare them for life-long success. The Council will identify existing gaps in instruction and programming to ensure that all students with disabilities consistently have access to a high-quality education and the resources that allow them to be successful in public school where they have previously been left out. The creation of the Council furthers the public schools’ commitment to engaging our community in critical decision making that impacts our children, and will include parents, caregivers and local community leaders, university partners, advocates, students, alumni, educators, and experts in the special education field among others.

Scaling & Sustaining Programs that Work

The city’s ASD Nest and Horizon programs serve students with autism, and work towards strengthening academic and social skills. This year we have added 15 new programs, for a total of 49 ASD Horizon and 69 ASD Nest Programs across the city. ASD Nest students are in an integrated co-teaching class setting, with one special education teacher and one general education teacher. As students get older, the class size increases. ASD Horizon features a small class setting, with no more than 8 students, one special education teacher, and one paraprofessional.  The ASD Nest program, which serves students with Autism, intensive sensory needs, and emotional disabilities, have already shown significant success with 95 percent of participants ultimately graduating from high school.

The SEED Pilot Program (Sensory Exploration, Education & Discovery) serves students who display intensive sensory needs that can impact their academics, social-emotional learning and behavior. The programming is offered Monday through Thursday and on Saturdays and supports students, under the supervision of a licensed Occupational or Physical Therapist, to utilize specialized sensory equipment (e.g., swings, trampoline, therapy ball, climbing wall, scooter board, etc.” in an intentionally designed space. These experiences prepare the body and brain for learning through a sensory-based, social-emotional curriculum, including a variety of calming and/or alerting activities.

SEED will be expanded to 70 additional sites across the city by the end of the school-year based on need, geographic access, and space availability, including ensuring there are between one and four SEED sites in every district in the city by the end of the year. The SEED program has already served over 1,100 students and has proven reduce student behavioral incidents and enable students to focus and stay engaged longer in the classroom.   

The Path program, modeled after the successful ASD Nest program with the goal of serving students with significant emotional disabilities, will expand to seven classrooms at six schools by the end of the year, including in District 9 in the Bronx, District 27 in Queens, District 17 in Brooklyn, and District 4 in Manhattan. The Path program is a specialized program designed to create new “paths to success” for students who would benefit from emotional and behavioral support to engage in the school curriculum. The program offers an alternative to a more restrictive setting for students with significant emotional disabilities and provides a therapeutic and inclusive classroom for students who have or are at risk of an emotional disability classification. The additional classrooms build capacity for schools to support students with more significant emotional disabilities.  

Re-Imagining the Student Experience & Building Pathways to Careers for Students with Disabilities

In partnership with the Trainings Opportunity Program (TOPS), for the first time high school students with a current IEP will be able to apply to participate in a paid internship on Saturdays, in the field of related services. Specifically, internship opportunities will be available in the nationally recognized SEED program and Related Services Saturday Academy. The internship will enable students to explore careers in physical, occupational, and speech therapy, providing an invaluable student experience and pathway for career development.

“Our city’s most vulnerable students deserve effective and sustained programs that meet their needs and advance opportunities to succeed," said Speaker Adrienne Adams. "By expanding special education initiatives, investing in student wellness, and providing additional opportunities to gain new experiences, the Department of Education is taking a positive step forward for our communities. It is also critical for parents and families to be engaged throughout this process, and the creation of a new advisory council is welcomed. As a Council, we will continue to monitor the progress of these programs to ensure they fully support New York City students with disabilities.”

“I commend the Chancellor for this significant investment in enriching and inclusive programs for students with disabilities because our public schools should truly serve all our students,” said Comptroller Brad Lander. “Creating the Special Education Advisory Council will ensure families have a voice in their children’s education, and scaling up successful programs like ASD Nest will expand opportunities to foster growth, social engagement, and academic achievement for students as well as prepare them with life skill development and career readiness. Specialized programs for students with disabilities should not operate on a scarcity model that creates inequities, but instead should be available to every student who needs them at a school in their own community.”

“Far too often students with disabilities have been left behind and forgotten. I applaud the NYC Department of Education for taking a step in the right direction. This Special Education Advisory Council will help bring families, educators and communities closer together to better the educational experience for students with disabilities. Expanding programs that work and implementing vital changes is how we will achieve inclusivity in the NYC School System.” said City Council Education Chair Rita Joseph.  

"All children are entitled to high-quality education, but unfortunately our City has often fallen short in delivering that education to children with disabilities," said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr.  "The vision announced by Chancellor Banks today is a bold step forward toward transforming special education and making the promise of a high-quality education a reality for all students. I commend the Chancellor for making children with disabilities a priority for our school system."

“We have a responsibility to our students with disabilities to ensure that they feel celebrated for who they are and empowered to achieve anything and everything they set their mind to,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “Right now, we’re not providing the right accommodations to make good on that promise. I’m thrilled to see Chancellor Banks focusing on how we better support our students with disabilities through expanded resources and reinvigorated programs, and I look forward to working together to make his vision a reality in Brooklyn and across this city.”

“We are pleased to see that special education students are a priority for Chancellor Banks and his team. On Staten Island, we are lucky to have numerous non-profit organizations and school programs that adapt their approach to teaching kids and adults with both learning and developmental disabilities. The four programs announced by the Chancellor will only help expand the work that is being done every day throughout the borough,” said Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella. “We have a continued commitment to children and adults with specials needs. We applaud the efforts of the newly created advisory council.”

“I'm so pleased that Chancellor Banks has furthered the City’s commitment to serving students with disabilities by expanding programs that promote social, emotional, and academic growth. As a disability civil rights attorney, I've seen how hard families must fight to ensure their children’s basic educational needs are met. The expansion of successful initiatives coupled with a new Special Education Advisory Council will offer the support and oversight that families deserve,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

“Absolutely no child should be deprived of resources that will greatly benefit their future especially when it comes to education. I commend Chancellor Banks for addressing this.   Regardless of the condition of the student, it is our responsibility to guide and prepare them for the obstacles of life. So, the funding to rebuild these four programs is an essential investment that should encourage New York City public schools to preserve the overall well-being of students with disabilities. Let’s continue and find ways to improve the quality of education for our youth because they deserve the best.” said Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman.

“I commend Chancellor Banks and the Adams administration for their commitment to providing a free appropriate public education for special education students.  There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to rebuild trust with parents, students, and educators and I support DOE’s efforts to re-imagine these vital programs across New York City."said Assemblymember Robert Carroll.  

“As a former District 75 student with an individualized education plan, I know firsthand the importance of receiving equitable school-based support after being diagnosed with a disability. This critical investment will aid our students and their families by supporting their academic learning, social-emotional growth, development, overall health, and well-being. I applaud Chancellor Banks and the Department of Education for expanding critically important special education programs for students with disabilities and look forward to continuing the work ahead.” said Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson.  

“These are needed supports for students with IEPs and their families who are often left out of innovative new programs. I commend leaders in the Division of Specialized Instruction for bringing the opportunities to New York City schoolchildren.” said City Council Member Gale Brewer.