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NYC Council Oversight Hearing on After School Program Support for Students with Disabilities

November 27, 2023
In the Media, Testimony

We thank the New York City Council’s Committees on Youth Services and Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction for holding this important oversight hearing on after school program support for youth with disabilities. My name is Lori Podvesker and I am the Director of Disability and Education Policy at INCLUDEnyc. INCLUDEnyc is the leading source of training and information for young people ages 0-26 with known or suspected disabilities, their parents, and the professionals who support them. We have helped New York City families navigate the complex special education service and support systems for 40 years.  

We commend this administration’s ongoing commitment to improving special education and outcomes for students with disabilities within our schools. However, their commitment should also apply to all publicly funded after school programs, including DYCD-funded and those operated in community settings, and otherwise. So all publicly funded programs should accommodate all students of all school ages including the majority of students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) who receive services in special class programs in District 1-32 schools and students attending citywide specialized programs such as District 75 programs who have more involved academic, behavioral, emotional, cognitive, physical and/or medical needs. No child should be excluded from participating in after school programs because they need additional support or have a Section 504 accommodation.   

Most publicly funded after school programs not operated by the Department of Education have limited experience supporting students with disabilities. Community-based providers often do not have formal training or experience working with students who receive special education services and do not have access to appropriate professional development opportunities. As a result, many community providers far too often are not able to accommodate students with disabilities because they do not think they can appropriately support them with their existing staff and they do not receive funding to hire additional qualified staff, including paraprofessionals and nurses. 

Furthermore, many students with disabilities can not attend after school programs even if they want to. Transportation is not available to them from these programs to their home despite being entitled to receive specialized transportation services from the City to and from school, based on the individual nature of their disabilities and mandated in their IEPs. We sadly have data to support this as less than 35% of students with disabilities participated in the City’s post-pandemic Special Education Recovery Services initiative (SERS) due to lack of transportation and staffing shortages. 

Every year we hear from many parents of students with disabilities who want their child to attend an after school program but they do not know where they exist and/or the admissions process for students who need specialized support in order to appropriately access enrichment or recreational programs.  As a result, for the last nearly 40 years,  INCLUDEnyc has held an annual fair showcasing educational, recreational, and transition-related programs that support young New Yorkers with disabilities. Over 2000 people registered for our two virtual fairs this year and last, and over 1600 families attended. 

In addition, we recommend the City:

  • Adequately funds after school programs so they can:
    •  Equitably accommodate all students 
    •  Hire additional staff accordingly
    • Provide basic trainings and ongoing professional development to all after school program staff on how to support students with disabilities 
  • Provide all schools and after school programs exemplar models of excellence on inclusive practices in education and recreational programming 
  • Create publicly funded citywide specialized after school programs for older students with developmental disabilities 
  • Explore possible additional funding sources such as billing Medicaid or partnering with the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)
  • Publish annual guidance to schools no later than August 15 each year and to families by September 15
  • Establish a public awareness campaign for families 

Thank you for taking the time to consider these important matters. We look forward to partnering with you to improve equity and access for all students with disabilities in New York City. 

Respectfully submitted, 
Lori Podvesker
Director of Disability and Education Policy