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  • 10,000 NYC students are shut out of programs for children with autism. Adding 160 seats is a start

    Jan 31, 2024

    Schools Chancellor David Banks and his special education chief, Christina Foti, said Wednesday that they hope to educate more students with disabilities in their home neighborhoods. The announcement was at P.S. 958 in Brooklyn, which opened last school year as a model for serving local students with a broad range of abilities.

    Chalkbeat – New York City is expanding programs for students with autism, part of a broader pledge top Education Department officials announced Wednesday to create special education programming closer to where students live.

    Beginning next school year, the city will guarantee that rising kindergartners in three local districts won’t have to leave their neighborhoods to access some of the city’s most popular programs for kids with autism.

    Children with disabilities often must travel outside their neighborhoods to attend schools with smaller class sizes staffed by teachers with specialized training. Those trips can stretch over an hour each way, thanks in part to the city’s notoriously unreliable yellow bus system. Lengthy commutes can make it difficult to attend after-school programs or build friendships with children in their neighborhood who attend local schools.

    “I think it is a really important first step,” said Maggie Moroff, a member of the advisory group that produced recommendations and a policy coordinator at Advocates for Children, a group that helps families navigate the special education system.

    Moroff was glad to hear city officials reiterate their commitment to including students with disabilities alongside general education students when possible and creating more programs in their home neighborhoods. And she also appreciated a new glossary released by the Education Department that aims to help schools use more inclusive language when referring to children with disabilities and the programs that serve them.

    But questions remained about the city’s plans, including whether it will scale up special education programming beyond the autism-focused initiative reaching just three of 32 local districts. Multiple advocates also noted there was little mention of the city’s vision for District 75, a network of schools that educate more than 26,000 students with more significant disabilities. Those children are largely separated from students without disabilities.

    “Like so many things, the devil is going to be in the details about how it plays out,” Moroff said.

    “Many of our kids, we’ve got to send them way out of the neighborhood at great expense to the system and at great inconvenience to the families and to the kids themselves,” schools Chancellor David Banks said during a press conference at Brooklyn’s P.S. 958, which opened last school year as a model for serving local students with a broad range of abilities.