Become An Educated Consumer

 Become An Educated Consumer

By Kami-Leigh Agard

My autistic daughter, Soanirina (“Soa”), is 14 years old, and for the past four years has been attending a private school in Manhattan.

After observing her at the first District 75 school she attended in Bellerose, Queens, from kindergarten through second grade, I worried. Was this school the fertile ground she needed to blossom both academically and socially? Then, suddenly, it felt like overnight, her speech completely disappeared. Initially, we thought that this was just another short-lived chapter of her autism journey. However, Soa’s decline continued, and we decided to explore what other schooling options were available.

A few years later, Rockaway resident, Regina Skyer, founder and manager of the law firm, Skyer & Associates, reached out to me after she read my column. Skyer & Associates is a special education law firm that advocates, mediates, and litigates on behalf of children with special education needs.

Skyer suggested that we pursue private school as an option. She said that as parents of a child with special needs, we have the right to demand that the DOE pay for private, more specialized education. The price tag? Upwards of $85K. However, the DOE is required to pay for private school if it is determined that the public school setting is not providing your child a fair and appropriate education. According to Skyer, as parents, we have to be educated consumers when it comes to advocating for what’s best for our children.

She said, “If you think your child needs more, get more. However, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Do not be an adversary, but an empathetic advocate who desires the best for your child.”

The ruling in the 1954 ground-breaking court case, Brown v. Board of Education, laid the foundation for the 1975 federal law (now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) requiring access to a free appropriate public education for all children with disabilities.

Under special education law, children with disabilities are entitled to a “free and appropriate education and related services.” Courts have interpreted that to mean an education and related services that are reasonably calculated to enable the child to learn. That means that your child will not necessarily be entitled to attend a private school at public expense just because a private education would be better for your child. However, if you can demonstrate that the DOE cannot offer your child a public school program that is at least appropriate to his or her needs, you may be entitled to have your child attend a private school at public expense.

In addition, if you do not agree with the DOE’s evaluations, you can obtain independent evaluations at their expense. If you want an independent evaluation paid by the DOE, write to the Committee on Special Education (CSE), tell them that you intend to have your child evaluated by an independent evaluator at the DOE’s expense, and request all necessary instructions and forms. If the DOE does not want to pay for an independent evaluation, they must request a hearing to challenge their obligation to pay. If you do not know where to go for an independent evaluation, ask your child’s pediatrician for suggestions, ask the private school that you want your child to attend for a referral, or call Resources for Children with Special Needs at (212) 677-4650.

If possible, ask the independent evaluator to address the following issues in the evaluation: What features (class size, type of program, method of instruction, type of environment, type and amount of supervision) your child needs in order to make educational progress; Why the DOE’s proposed public school placement is inappropriate for your child; And is there any evidence from your child’s record that the DOE’s proposed placement has not met your child’s educational needs?

Stay tuned for my next column, in which I explore what more is needed to win your case with the DOE.

Share your thoughts by emailing: On Thursday, July 27, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., join Rockaway Beach Autism Families at our Third Annual “Dance Out Under The Stars for Autism” at Caracas, Beach 106th Concession. Free! For more info, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/Instagram.

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