Navigating the CSE System: Like David to the DOE’s Goliath, Part One

Time for a change of pace, and an area of the law near and dear to my heart: special education advocacy.  With the start of each school year, countless children struggle to overcome various obstacles to scholastic success.  Some receive the assistance and tools they need to succeed; many, however, do not.  Sadly, the majority of the parents and guardians of students whose needs are not being met do not fully understand their families’ rights, nor do they realize the tools available to them.

All students in this country are guaranteed a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE).  This means that any student in need of special education or other services must be provided necessary instruction, services and modifications, at public expense, according to established standards, and conforming to each student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP).

The FAPE process may begin long before a child enters kindergarten.  Infants or toddlers identified as having developmental delays may receive services in New York City through the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE), but may no longer require services when they are school-age.  Then again, the need for services and individualized instruction may be just as apparent during the school years as it was during the preschool years.  Children who received services and interventions from the CPSE will, upon entering kindergarten, be referred to the Committee on Special Education (CSE) to determine if further services and interventions are needed.  Other students, who may have entered school without previously receiving services of any kind, may be referred to the CSE at any time if it appears that the child may need services, modifications or interventions.

Once referred to the CSE, the student begins an evaluation process, including medical, behavioral and other examinations designed to shed light on that student’s particular academic and social needs.  The CSE will also gather reports and observations from past teachers and other professionals who have worked with the child in order to fully evaluate that child’s progress.

When the system works, the tools students need to succeed are identified, and parents, teachers and other professionals successfully implement them.  More often than not, however, the system is not a well-oiled machine, and needs some coaxing along.  Even students who are properly referred and evaluated may face an unsympathetic CSE, not receive a proper classification and be denied crucial services.  In such cases, parents can be frustrated, unheard and marginalized, the students suffer, and some well-timed, focused advocacy work can bring about desired results.  In blog posts to follow, we will discuss some of the ways New York City students can fall through the cracks, and what options are available to parents.

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