New York City schools are failing to meet their obligation to provide services such as occupational or speech therapy to students who need it, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed by a disability advocacy group.
The 1 million-student district is sometimes unable to find therapists for its students, and when it cannot, it issues families a voucher so they can find providers on their own. But those vouchers, which the district calls “related services authorizations,” often go unused because the parents also cannot find providers, says the organization Disability Rights Advocates, which filed the complaint on June 27 on behalf of two students in the Bronx.
Districtwide, nearly half of the vouchers issued in the 2014-15 school year went unused, according to the complaint. In the Bronx, the problem was particularly acute: Across the borough, more than 63 percent of vouchers were not used.
The lawsuit described one Bronx student who has autism spectrum disorder and low muscle tone, whose parent has been looking for an occupational therapist since the 2013-14 school year. Another child described in the lawsuit has Down syndrome and other disabilities. His mother hasn’t been able to find an occupational therapist because she doesn’t have the transportation or child-care options needed to get her child to a therapy session during school hours.
In July, the city’s public advocate filed a report that noted the problem of getting related services to students with disabilities. “By providing [related services authorizations] to parents of students with disabilities, the [district] has abdicated its duty to deliver mandated related services,” the report said. "[District] policy—outsourcing its legal responsibility to contracted providers—does not constitute equal access to education.”
In an article on the lawsuit in the New York Times, district spokeswoman Toya Holness said that “in the small percentage of cases when we issue a related service authorization, we work with families to connect them with an appropriate provider in their area.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.