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Oversight Hearing on Remote Learning

May 27, 2020

My name is Lori Podvesker and I lead the policy work at INCLUDEnyc. Thank you Chairman Treyger and the entire Committee on Education for holding this important oversight hearing on Remote Learning. INCLUDEnyc (formerly Resources for Children with Special Needs) has worked with hundreds of thousands of families since our founding 37 years ago, helping them navigate the complex special education service and support systems.

We testify today with deep respect and gratitude to our City, the Department of Education, school administrators, teachers, related service providers, counselors, parent coordinators, and all other school staff on their commitment to ensuring our 1.1 million students, including nearly 300,000 students with disabilities, continue to learn during the pandemic and related school closures. 

However, during the last ten weeks since remote learning began, hundreds of parents with children who have suspected or known disabilities have called our helpline looking for individual help. And thousands more families have attended our online workshops, live stream discussions with experts, webinars, and have downloaded related resources on our website. Persistent issues and areas of need include:

  • Difficulties accessing remote learning:
    • Students and families most pressing needs right now include health, food, housing, and financial insecurities.
    • Many students do not have internet service or a tablet or laptop on which to access school- and class-based learning platforms. Older students do not know how to fix technological problems themselves, and often their parents don’t know how to use and troubleshoot them either.
    • At home, students may not have adequate space or the physical environment needed to support productive learning, and they are not benefiting from the social and behavioral support available at school.
    • There has been limited or no live instruction. The absence of specialized instruction makes coursework inaccessible for many of our students. Parents are concerned about regression in knowledge and skills and do not understand how their child will make up this missed content.
    • Related services are necessary for students with disabilities to meet IEP goals, but many sessions have not been delivered to students.
    • There are language barriers for families with school- and class-based communications, coursework, and special education and IEP-related services and documentation which prevent parents from supporting their children.
  • Understanding the special education process and legal rights:
    • Parents need to know that evaluations, services, and supports continue to be available even in a remote learning environment.
    • Families are having difficulty understanding the difference between their child’s IEP and Special Education Remote Learning Plans.  We have heard that many are being developed without parental input.
    • Parents need to be better informed that remote IEP meetings are happening, and that they should be active participants in their child’s IEP meeting and process.
    • Parents are also unaware of the need to speak with their child’s school about missed instruction and services, and if and how they will be made up (compensatory services).

We fear our students will continue to struggle and risk failing, and the achievement gap between general and special education students will further widen if these issues are not quickly and adequately addressed. As a result, we recommend that the Department of Education:

  • Offer special education support and services during the summer to students with 10-month IEPs who are not meeting their IEP goals (known as Extended School Year services).
  • Develop plans for compensatory services for students now, before school buildings reopen.
  • Offer support and training to parents on how they can help their child access the curriculum based on their child’s educational needs.
  • Open borough-based centers for on-site evaluations and related services.

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.