The ABCs of the DOE
It may take weeks. It may take months. It may take years. But at a certain point some parents start to acknowledge that nagging, sinking feeling. They start to listen to that little voice in their head and heart telling them that perhaps something is “wrong” with their child. Some parents know right away. An amniocentesis during pregnancy led to a diagnosed disorder or anomaly. At birth parents and hospital staff members know the immediate steps to take and the right people to call for assessment and intervention. But for many parents it is just a feeling that their child is not like other children. There is nothing they can see, nothing overt, just a deep sense that there is something different about their child; a sense that they may need to look outside their family and friends to find answers and help.
No matter when it happens (birth, preschool or high school) when a parent begins taking steps to reach out for help they find a largely supportive, but often confusing and overwhelming world of services for their child. New York City offers some of the best and most comprehensive intervention services for children with special needs. We are lucky to live in a state with so many resources available to our children, but accessing those services can sometimes be difficult and very tricky. Learning to speak the language of service provision, particularly in the NYC Department of Education, can make a real difference in how successful a parent can be when advocating for their child. In that vein I’m here to give a brief introduction to the world of the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) Special Education Services (already a mouthful!).
Lots of things in the DOE go by abbreviations and acronyms. From the law that puts special education in place to the services themselves. Knowing what these things mean makes you both forewarned and forearmed. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will lay some groundwork for you to feel like you have an idea of what everyone is talking about.
IDEA = Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is the law that provides educational services for people with disabilities. Its goal is to provide people with disabilities the same opportunity and access to education as students who do not have disabilities.
FAPE = Free Appropriate Public Education. The basic tenet on which IDEA is based – emphasis on the word “appropriate.” As kids get older services for them continue to be available. These services may be “appropriate,” but they often don’t meet parents’ desires or expectations. This can repeatedly lead to frustrations and disappointments for parents in that the DOE offers the Holiday Inn of services and not the Ritz Carlton. When advocating for your child, working to prove that something is or is not “appropriate” can make a big difference in the outcome.
LRE = Least Restrictive Environment. This is the ultimate goal of placement for children receiving services. It is listed within IDEA and indicates that this is the goal of all educational placements for individuals with disabilities. A general education classroom setting in a community school with minimal intervention services is the standard LRE.
Eval = Evaluation. All children receiving intervention services must be initially evaluated to determine if the child has a disability and/or qualifies for services.
IEP = Individualized Education Program. This document lists a child’s educational and therapeutic services along with other information. It qualifies as a "contract" of sorts with the DOE. All children with IEPs receive a classification – this is NOT a documented diagnosis and cannot be used to access certain services/programs available to individuals with disabilities.
EI = Early Intervention. This is intervention services from birth to 3 years of age. EI is a federal program administered through the NYS Department of Health via the Bureau of Early Intervention and does not involve the Department of Education.
DOE = Department of Education. This is how and where most children in NYC receive their intervention services. Intervention services are provided from 3 to 21 years of age. The NYC DOE is the largest school district in the country. Services can be provided in a large array of settings, but largely are provided at a child’s local community school.
CPSE = Committee on Preschool Special Education. The section within the DOE that serves children 3 to 5 years of age who have been evaluated and meet eligibility criteria for special education services.
CSE = Committee on Special Education. The section within the DOE that serves children 5 to 21 years of age who have been evaluated and meet eligibility criteria for special education services.
AIS/RTI = Academic Intervention Services/Response to Intervention. May go by different names in different schools, but is the same thing. If your child is not yet receiving special education services, but is having difficulties at school AIS/RTI may be offered and/or can be requested. It is essentially a precursor to evaluations. You should receive progress notes related to this intervention and if minimal improvement is seen an evaluation should be completed.
RSO = Related Service Only. This means that a child is only receiving a therapy service (i.e. speech therapy, counseling, occupational therapy, etc.) and is not placed in a special education classroom setting.
ICT = Integrated Co-Teaching class. This is a type of classroom available in a community school setting that provides special education services. An ICT class can be referred to as a general education classroom (as it follows a general education curriculum). Per the NYC DOE web site an ICT classroom “may not exceed 40% of the total class register or a maximum of 12,” and has a full time general education teacher and a full time special education teacher.
SCC – Self Contained Classroom. This type of classroom is also available in community school settings typically with 12:1 or 12:1:1 ratios; however, they are becoming harder to find these days in many community schools and are more typically provided in D75 (see below) settings. This type of classroom serves only special education students. Class sizes can vary from 6 to 15 students with one special education teacher. The class may also have anywhere from 1 to 4 (sometimes more) paraprofessionals.
D75 = District 75. This is the special education wing of the DOE and serves only children who are receiving special education and whose needs cannot be met within a community school setting. Children in D75 often receive transportation services as well as 12 months of school programming.
SETSS, OT, PT, Sp&L, Co = These are all abbreviations of related services. In order: Special Education Teacher Support Services, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech & Language Therapy, Counseling.
FBA & BIP = Functional Behavior Assessment & Behavior Intervention Plan. These typically involve children who are displaying behavioral challenges at school. These challenges may relate to social-emotional functioning, cognitive skills and/or other developmental issues. The assessment works to observe and analyze a child’s behavior and the surrounding circumstances. The plan is then put in place to assist and provide the child with positive interventions to help them develop more expected responses to school demands and to assist them in developing better coping skills.
Phew! I’m exhausted just reading this! As you can see, this system is complex. There are laws in place and goals to meet for everyone involved. Although every staff member and every setting within the DOE is there to help a child, finances and laws place limitations on what and how much a school can do. Parents don’t have these limitations, but are constantly dealing with them. Sometimes conflicts arise, and parents can face ongoing challenges in accessing services for their child. The more information and understanding you have, the better able you are to work within the DOE system, be your child’s best advocate and get them the services they need.
In my upcoming post I'll discuss how to get your child services within the DOE.