NYC Board of Education: Legislative Proposals
June, 1996

Following are excerpts from the Draft Proposal presented by NYC Board of Education to the NY State legislature, as its plan to improve Special Education (costs and services). You may note that a major component is the elimination of school psychologists as mandated members of school-based evaluation teams, which will in effect remove mental health services from the mandated continuum of available resources for students, teachers, and parents.

The premise--some say rhetoric--is that "special ed is a service, not a place", and reflects the argument being made in Albany that psychologists are just too costly to "mandate" into law any longer, because they tend to find serious disabilities which are costly to accommodate in "special" classes. The argument is buttressed by management-sponsored studies, concluding that psychologists simply find too many disabilities which must be paid for at public expense. They invoke the spirit of PL94-142, ensuring a "free and appropriate" education in the "least restrictive environment", arguing that the best way to accomplish this is to raise class sizes, promote "inclusion" of the most disabled in those classes, and allow speech therapists and counselors to engage in their crucial work in group sizes which "equal class sizes"--all in the name of "flexibility".

Child advocates and mental health experts, in turn, respond that "Mandate relief" legislation such as this not only removes historic safeguards for children, but is in fact very costly over the long-term. (An extensive body of research demonstrates how prevention and early intervention services reduce drop-out rates, social services costs, and prison costs across entire generations.) This proposed legislation, it is argued, simply removes the last mandated advocates for children left in the sprawling New York City School System, and reveals a cynical policy which reasons "if there's nobody there to identify the problems kids have, then they won't have them, and we don't have to pay for them."

But read for yourself:

Special Education Reform in New York City-Support for Effective Practice

Draft, 06/11/96

The New York City Board of Education believes that special education is a service, not a place. This is the philosophy that will drive special education reform in New York City. The proposed reforms are based on the overall goal of having all students meet high standards, those in special education as well as general education students. This goal fits the mandate for providing educational services in the least restrictive environment (LRE) and is supported by a school based model of early intervention /prevention. The reforms proposed by the Board provide support for special education students integrated into the general education classroom (whenever possible) and interventions for at risk students before they are tracked into special education.

....Although projected reductions in the need for special education services resulting from early intervention/prevention activities would provide long term savings, LRE is not seen as a short term cost saving measure since the necessary support services can be substantial....

Program Flexibility

The New York City Board of Education has proposed legislative changes that would support effective practices by providing greater programmatic flexibility. This flexibility would have two important outcomes: it would allow the Board to create richer integrated models that meet the needs of students and to implement cost saving practices in order to redirect funds to reform initiatives. In order to carry out these proposals the Board is seeking greater flexibility in the provision of special education services. Several initiatives are being proposed that would provide this flexibility and would allow us to provide this flexibility and would allow us to provide appropriate special education services at lower costs. The savings derived from the flexibility afforded through these initiatives would be used to maintain appropriate general education classrooms that are critical to our ability to serve students in the least restrictive environment and to increase the provision of support services to special education and at risk children in an integrated setting.

These initiatives include:

  • Allowing group size to equal class size for specific categories of special education classes. This change would allow related services to be provided, where appropriate, in the natural setting of the self contained class. [Note: this is currently a class of 10 to 15 disabled students.] This change would primarily affect speech/language and counseling services for students with specific needs (explained more fully in the addendum). The affected classes are formed on the basis of social, academic, language, and emotional levels that would be appropriate for the delivery of the type of speech/language and counseling services needed by the students. This change would not affect services that mandate individual delivery.

    Projected Savings: $9.5 million

  • Changing class size for two programs that serve learning disabled and mildly retarded secondary level students. This class size change would only affect students who function at a higher level of independence without severe behavioral or management related issues....In order to ensure the continued quality of these programs, the Board would not reduce the number of support positions (ancillary positions include job developers, transition linkage coordinators, teacher trainers, etc.) as they are considered essential to these populations.

    Projected Savings: $2.9 million

  • Increasing the caseload of resource room teachers in order to efficiently implement the 1995 legislation that increased student group size in resource rooms from 5 to 8.

    The current limits on resource room caseloads make it difficult to implement the group sizes approved in 1995 without creating conflicts in student placements. The Board proposes to increase the caseload of resource room teachers at the secondary level from 38 to 40....

    Projected Savings: $8 million

  • The above document was submitted by the Board of Education of the City of New York, dated 6-13-96. There are a great many additional "cost-saving" measures which deal with intra-agency reimbursement and allowing "over-enrollment to all grades", and a great many issues which ignore the plight of the child needing or receiving professional mental health services. This proposal suggests that retaining administrators while eliminating direct service providers and adding new burdens on the teachers of our most at-risk children will simply evaporate costs, as "flexibility" prevails (much like the claims that an irrational assessment model imposed upon clinicians constituted an "enhancement"). The language of the legislation itself (without mention in the above cover document, and without rationale beyond "flexibility" and "cost saving") simply surgically removes the words "psychologist" and "psychological" from mention in all the current protections for children. There are those who applaud this--and some of those voices will be presented here in the future--but in this case it seems like a calculated hit on children's educational services masquerading as a campaign for "flexibility" and "least restrictive settings", which are great concepts when used as the words were intended!


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    The Quarterly Review of Doublespeak is available for $10/yr. To subscribe, send check or money order to NCTE, 1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana IL 61801-1096.


    [Yes, that's what it's called!] This now is the legislation itself, introduced by the NYC Board of Education Executive Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, in June 1996. The summary, which once again neglects to mention that the bill invites removal of school psychological services, describes New York City's own preferred version of education law:

    Section 1

    1. Deletes redundant language (pg2)
    2. Requires principal to certify information contained in a referral (pg3, lines 1 to 4)
    3. Allows board to place child as soon as it is administratively feasible (pg.3, line 20 to pg.4, line2)

    Section 2

    1. Conforms composition of committee with Federal regulations.[Note: In fact it "conforms" with only the most Draconian changes which were sought but not enacted when PL94-142 expired in the lap of a new and eager "Contract with America" Congress in 1995.] Allows evaluation team to determine whether child needs a physical or psychological....

    This deserves special consideration.

    What this language calls for, as it would have under the IDEA had it in fact gone the way the Board believes or wishes it had, is a situation where:

    No longer will there be even a pretext of understanding or adhering to the actual "mandate relief" laws of the 1990's, which increasingly specify how the person to decide what psychological testing is really needed would be a psychologist. This idea has never been accepted in New York City, however, where they continue to interpret the laws as enabling any "assessment team" to be defined by any criteria, as (of course) administrative "flexibility". This follows the same reasoning as seen in the worst aspect of the Federal IDEA, which was at least on the right track in terms of trying to de-stigmatize disability and reduce labeling. But what is the new political goal, awash with buzzwords like "flexibility", "enhanced", and "least restrictive"? It is simple: Reduce all disability to physical disability or mental disability. Then, remove children's rights to see health professionals and mental health professionals, and let "flexibly"-chosen administrative cost-cutting "committees" make the actual determination of whether a child is entitled or in need of an examination by a physician or psychologist. Physicians are already largely inaccessible, at what cost to children. The "downsizing of school psychology services" will affect children with the majority of disabilities, diagnosed or not-- in particular, mental retardation, autism, learning disability, emotional disaiblity, and in fact most of the Federally-identified disabilities which might now be determined by committees which include neither physicians nor psychologists. Again: this legislation says that children with physical or mental disorders will--for the first time in 22 years--be denied automatic access to even informal examination by a professional health care expert.

    Section 2, Cont'd.

    2.Specifies that failure to adhere to timelines would not nullify an otherwise appropriate placement.

    Section 3

    Extend [sic] over-enrollment to all grades and extend legal authority another two years to the 1998-99 school year.

    Section 4
    Allows board to adjust resource room caseload size to accommodate the variance enacted last year.

         Section 2 , item 2, it should be noted, ignores the Jose P. stipulations and denies children and parents existing rights for timely services and professional evaluation by appropriately-trained and licensed clinicians. It defends this by reassuringly promising, in the as-yet unsponsored bill, that:

    ..."nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit a parent from requesting that a particular test or assessment, including a psychological examination be performed on his or her child."

    In other words, dear parent, if your child is having a difficult time and you expect access to a physician or psychologist, you would under this re-regulation have to specifically ask for one and hope the Board will find one. You'll have the right to "request" assistance, but you may well be told that psychologists are no longer available in the schools your children attend. No longer will prevention and support services be available to ALL children suspected of, or "at risk" of, having a disability, as is now the case thanks to PL94-142 and Jose P vs. NYC Board of Education.

    Good or bad, that's the way it is, and these are the arguments which will greet returning legislators next month. New York City psychologists, students, and the next generation, are all "at-risk" under this proposed legislation... we need to be vigilant and aware, of both the underlying impact on children's services should this legislation go forward, and the extent of political doublespeak in which the rationale is wrapped. Keep in touch with your professional organization if you are involved in the field of school-based mental health! There are those who consider psychologists the problem, and not the solution, and they will be loud and persistent in the new legislative year!

    For more information on the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), visit also the American Psychological Association or the "School Psychology Resources" pages, both of which are accessible from "Current Topics in Psychology". For New York City/New York State Issues, feel free to stop in here, for perspective and breaking news, and please let me know if you become aware of other sites which offer "inside information" on education law or regulation affecting the practice and profession of school psychology in New York State.

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