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New York City Council Hearing on Education Bills

March 29, 2023
Lori Podvesker

We would like to thank the New York City Council’s Committee on Education for jointly holding this important hearing on the proposed education bills. My name is Lori Podvesker, and I am the Director of Disability and Education Policy at INCLUDEnyc. For the last 40 years, INCLUDEnyc (formerly Resources for Children with Special Needs) has helped hundreds of thousands of NYC families navigate the complex special education service and support systems.

We testify today in favor of this entire legislation package, as all proposed bills if adopted will lead to more transparency and accountability.  But we especially urge the Council to adopt Introduction Bill #0868-2022, as this proposed bill regarding District 75 programs will ultimately lead to better outcomes and equity for hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities, and a more inclusive city for all New Yorkers. 

According to the most recent data from the City, including the November 2022 Local Law 27 Report from the Department of Education and the January 2023 Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report, there are nearly 300,000 students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in New York City who are receiving special education support and services. This includes nearly 100,000 students with disabilities who take a school bus to and from school each day and almost 27,000 students ages 3-21 attending District 75 programs throughout the city. 

District 75 students have long been invisible within our public school system and communities. The majority of students attending District 75 specialized programs have developmental disabilities or are educationally classified as having emotional disabilities. In addition, over 90% of District 75 students identify as Black, Hispanic, or Asian. 

Due to the rigidity and the ways the system underutilizes the special education continuum (a range of educational placements in which an IEP can be implemented to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities), the majority of District 75 students spend their entire school days in segregated settings and academically, socially, or programmatically do not interact with general education students, despite almost 90% of the 385+ District 75 programs being colocated in school buildings with other schools. And almost all District 75 students are bussed out of their neighborhoods, home school districts, and sometimes even their home boroughs to attend an appropriate school, due to a lack of adequate seats and programming options closer to their residence.

While a new report on District 75 programs will not immediately solve these blatant acts of the City not meeting the civil and educational rights of these students, we do believe a new report outlining where existing District 75 programs exist, coupled with the criteria the NYCDOE uses to determine where it locates new District 75 programs, will naturally help the City more appropriately educate District 75 students. The adoption of this bill will allow more District 75 students to attend schools closer to where they are living, to the greatest extent possible, and as required of them per federal special education law; the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Furthermore, it increases the possibility of some students spending less time on buses, including sitting on idling busses due to multiple schools on one school bus route,  leading to better individual health and bus safety outcomes.

As a result, more District 75 students will have opportunities for community integration, leading to more independent living, educational progress, and employment after high school.  And equally, as important, more District 75 students attending programs closer to their homes and in local community schools and buildings and with students who live nearby equates to being more seen and heard by over 900, 000 non-District 75 students.

Thank you for taking the time today to consider this important matter. We look forward to partnering with you to improve equity and access for all young people with disabilities in New York City. 

Lori Podvesker
Director of Disability and Education Policy