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New York Wins “Race to the Top” but Throws Students with Autism under the Bus

UnderTheBus_oxy[1] If you live in NY, please send this alert to Albany: HERE

By John Gilmore

Several weeks  ago New York received the good news that our state was one of the ten winners of federal “Race to the Top” education grants. More than $700 million federal dollars will be made available to our schools. It is doubtful, though, that any of that will be spent on special education, and especially not on student with autism. While New York schools are supposedly “racing to the top,” the state Board of Regents recently voted to gut basic minimum standards of education for students with autism with the expressed goal of rolling back state educational standards to the minimums allowed under federal law. In other words for students with autism the goal is a “race to the bottom.”
Describing their efforts to cut education for students with autism as “mandate relief” the New York Regents voted to do the following:
•  Eliminate the minimum required amount of speech therapy specified for students with autism
•  Eliminate maximum class sizes for students with autism
•  Expand public school speech therapists’ work load to 65 sessions per week
•  Eliminate the requirement that a student’s teacher have access to a copy of a student’s individual education plan (IEP)
These are all proposed under the pretext of cost saving. The New York Board of Regents think that not allowing a student’s teacher to know what is in a student’s Individual Education Plan is a cost-saving. And despite the claimed motivation of saving money, neither the Board of Regents, nor anyone else, has ever quantified how many real dollars would be saved, probably because they would also be forced to quantify the cost of providing kids with autism baby-sitting rather than education.
All of these really bad ideas have been kicking around for years, but they received a big boost with the 2008 report of a blue-ribbon commission on property taxes put together by Governor Eliot Spitzer. You might recall that Spitzer was the former New York Governor who resigned because he wasn’t competent enough to get together with a high-priced hooker without getting caught and committing wire fraud, violating the Mann Act and a couple other federal charges in the process.

The Spitzer property tax commission was lead by former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, who at the time was a rapidly rising political star. Suozzi so grossly misread the mood of his Long Island constituency in 2009 that after two terms in office he ended up losing by 377 votes out of 250,000 cast. A quarter of the Suozzi Commission report focused on how to cut special education, and autism was the only medical disorder mentioned in the report.
Here’s the take away for New York politicians: it ain’t smart to talk about cutting special education when almost 15 percent of all students are enrolled in special ed. That’s a lot of votes. Get it?
Poor old Tom couldn’t quite figure out the math of that proposition, I guess, and a guy who the Manhattan media was talking about quite seriously as a potential Governor or Senator, perhaps even the first Italian-American president, got whipped by an out-of-nowhere GOP challenger. Now Mr. Senator-or-Governor-in-Waiting is employed as the head of the high school sports program on the Long Island cable news.
But it was the New York State Regents who made these ridiculous decisions. The Board of Regents is an appointed body that sets policy for the New York’s public schools, colleges and universities. It has a lot of clout, and its current Chancellor is Merryl Tisch. Tisch also served on the Suozzi Commission.
Tisch is an Upper-Eastside-lady-who-lunches who owes her seat on the Board of Regents to the fact that she married into the Loews and Lorillard tobacco mob that made most of its boodle by hawking Newport brand discount cigarettes to African-Americans and poor people. To be fair, Tisch and her husband divested themselves of the tobacco business (for a significant profit) in 2008. Now most of their loot comes from the much more respectable insurance business.  Tisch has never attended a public school according to her CV, and I would doubt her children have either.
For whatever reason, Tisch has it in for both special education in general, and autism in particular. These policies have to go, and Tisch has to go with it. Anybody who can’t understand why a teacher needs a copy of a student’s IEP really should go back to having lunch with her fellow gazillionaires, not setting educational policy for an extremely complex state of 20 million people.
The entire Board of Regents should go, but Tisch is the head of that group and her participation in the Suozzi Commission as well, is a clear indication of her values. Especially since these ideas have been proposed numerous times in the past and never got anywhere.
Fortunately, the decision isn’t solely up to the Regents. A series of public hearing have to be held that hopefully will be packed with outraged taxpayers. The final decision is up to the Commissioner of Education, who is appointed by the Governor. Given that this is an election New Yorkers have the opportunity to lean heavily on whoever the next Governor may be.



When political actions are outrageous, then a constituent's tone of anger seems an appropriate response.


I beg to differ - screaming is not appropriate when you're selling into an audience that's already been sold - and really doesn't need additional hysteria - reality "one" gives us more than enough.

I am in New York. Over the past 25 years I have parented three "extra-ordinary" kids through the system. I have been involved in PTAs, SLTs, C30s, Superintendents Councils, and am the veteran of many, many impartial hearings. I have seeen good, dedicated pedagogues and administrators - and I've seen jerks feeding at the trough, doing time 'til retirement. Albany policy has very little to do with NYC Spec Ed. Teachers, like parents, can enforce contracts - IEPs- or initiate review for services not on the IEP - if there are people available to provide those services. Bottom line: an IEP - emphasis on individual - stands apart from state-level policy. State level policy had been to ship kids to residential - primarily out of state. Then it became policy not to ship kids out. Guess what? kids received, and didn't receive, placements. It stinks that advocacy requires a battery of mad-dog parents, attorneys, etc... whether the economy's good or tanked... but I can't think of any way around that.

Louis Conte

Dear VM:
The tabloid style is appropriate. People with autism in NY have been under attack by those associated with State Government for some time now. This rocket scientist Suozzi looked across the broad swath of corruption, waste and bureaucratic non-sense and figured out that our kids were the problem. And this he features in a report to the Governor as THE PLACE where cost savings can be made. He made this calculation because we are already beleagured, stressed out and regularly attacked. So why not join the feeding frenzy? This Tisch person is making the same choice from her Manhattan pent-house.

NY is not following the mandates now. I speak to parents in NY City and other schools who inform me that their children are denied services, warehoused and worse. Changing the mandates will only allow the annual abuse that goes on for many in CSE meetings to continue.

Deny the educator access to an IEP?!! Do you know what this is really about? This about shuting up teachers who have the testicular fortitude to stand up for our kids and advocate for them to receive what the district agreed to. Why else would it be an issue.

Lets not try to gloss over discrimination and victimization and then cringe because the language gets a little tough. Do we want to fight or sound like nice obedient boys and girls. What the NYS Board of Regents did was just gutless pandering to those who moan about "mandates" and high taxes. If they were serious about addressing these issues, our kids would be the last place they would look.


Wow...these are all bad...but this one really threw me...

"Eliminate the requirement that a student’s teacher have access to a copy of a student’s individual education plan (IEP)"

How can the state override a federal law???? Or am I missing something here???


What a tragedy. I'm so sick of these people who were "born on third base and act like they hit a home run" making decisions for any of us-- especially for society's most vulnerable citizens.

New York schools will then have to resort to more abusive restraints, solitary confinement and aversives if they're cutting back autism services which were already too thin to begin with. This will cause even more behavior problems among the student population with autism, which generally leads to an increase in arrests of disabled students on school grounds.


Good grief! the tabloid style is really annoying - we already know the system is anything-but kind to our population... gratuitous insults and slanders only dilute your point.

That having been said, now a few points:

let us not forget that ASD is a very, very broad Dx, as of now. The DoE has touted it's approach to individual students, vs. Dx'd groups, for a long time - that is, for every group but students with ASD. Now the formerly-known-as Aspies/HFA are (rightly) going into to inclusionary settings, and golly: the pull-out hours of 1:1 speech don't seem to make much sense... As to IEPs, those are another case where it may not be such a bad idea to hold them back (and I'm not sure it makes a bit of difference, anyway, unless you close teacher lounges). I have seen bad IEPs make for bad beginnings for my children, requiring a load of work to straighten out because, after all, the IEP is the WORD and I'm just a parent.

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