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The NYCDOE Ordered To Make Changes To Its Implementation Of Impartial Hearing Decisions
Published August 18, 2023
By: Arshi Pal, Esq.
When a school district fails to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with disabilities, parents can file a request for an impartial hearing. Through the hearing, the parents can seek a variety of remedies, including but not limited to; tuition reimbursement, compensatory education, compensatory related services, assistive technology devices and evaluations.
The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is one of the largest school districts in our nation. Filing for an impartial hearing against the NYCDOE can be overwhelming for parents. Some hurdles parent face include sharing evidence in a timely and efficient manner, utilizing the technology to attend impartial hearing, locating and understanding final decisions. The hearing process is long and arduous itself, taking months to years. However, sometimes parents will go through a hearing and receive a decision with services awarded but discover they aren’t able to benefit much from same.
In the NYCDOE, the implementation unit is tasked with fulfilling the NYCDOE’s obligations under final decisions. Some of the tasks that the implementation unit performs include issuing authorizations for services, making payments to private providers, issuing reimbursement to parents, working with the Committee on Special Education (CSE) to convene, working with the CSE to conduct evaluations of students, and providing Assistive technology devices to students. Often times implementation of orders is delayed and causes students to miss out on their much-needed services. For example, we filed for an impartial hearing on behalf of a student with Autism who was denied a FAPE for two school years, among the relief awarded was a bank of ABA hours. The Parents had identified an agency to provide the services. The agency reaches out to the implementation unit to provide the relevant information to obtain an authorization to begin services. However, five months have passed without authorization and no reason for the delay has been explained. In another matter, we obtained compensatory multisensory tutoring through an impartial hearing decision for a student with dyslexia. After the hearing, the tutoring services were helping the student to make gains in her academics. However, due to the NYCDOE’s failure to timely pay for the tutoring invoices, the agency had to stop providing the services. As a result, the gains that the student made with the consistent multisensory tutoring were minimized. Unfortunately, these are common stories for parents who deal with the implementation unit.
On July 19, 2023, Federal Judge, Hon. Loretta A. Preska issued an order in attempts to address such issues. The case, L.V. v NYCDOE, was filed by Advocates for Children on behalf of families of students with disabilities. Although the case was settled in 2007 pursuant to a settlement, the NYCDOE was unable to meet the terms of the settlement. As a result, a special master was appointed to oversee the NYCDOE’s progress toward meeting the terms of the settlement agreement. The special master noted significant delays in implementation of impartial hearing decisions although the NYCDOE had agreed to implement decisions in 35 days. Based on the special master’s recommendation, Judge Preska issued the NYCDOE to follow 40 directives to speed up the implementation of hearing officers. Click here to review the order. The order directs the NYCDOE to revamp outdated methods including submitting paper invoices and instead to create a mobile app to allow providers to log hours; to hire more staff; to create special liaisons between the various NYCDOE offices and CSEs; to train implementation unit staff; to create a file sharing system between impartial hearing representatives and implementation unit staff; to create a toolkit of existing Assistive Technology resources; to design a web-based interface for Impartial hearing officers to issues decisions; to create automated message notifications to parents at key milestones of implementation; and to create of a web based program to allow parents to view the status of their case. Each directive has a specific deadline attached to it, as early as 45 days to one year. Although it remains to be seen whether the NYCDOE can meet its obligations under the order, it is a step in the right direction. Not only will this order affect families who have impartial hearing decisions from prior hearings but also families who will file hearings in the future. We are hopeful that the delays will diminish and students with disabilities can get their much-needed supports and services as efficiently as possible.
If you or someone you know need help filing for an impartial hearing reach out to an experienced special education lawyer today. Staff at Littman Krooks LLP is ready to help you and your child today.
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