New Mission

New Mission


My mission is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues.

I would like to visit and observe different types of schools that have proven records of success, wherever those schools may be. I would like to meet with school directors and administrators, government officials, leaders in the business world, and others who are responsible for implementing education systems or otherwise connected to education to learn more about how education is being addressed in their communities.

If you know of any remarkable schools in other parts of the world (especially special needs schools), please let me know about them. If you know of any education experts who are engaged in remarkable work in this field, please introduce me to them.

Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the above. Read more about my mission here.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Manhattan Star Academy Virtual Open House On Tuesday, August 4

Manhattan Star Academy (MSA) is offering a "Virtual Open House" for families that might be interested in admission to MSA for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Parents will have the opportunity to learn about the program and ask questions.  

If you are interested in participating in MSA's Virtual Open House, contact Martina Remy at 646.795.3850, ext. 1810 or Phyllis Platin at phyllis.platin@yai.org.

You can visit msacommunity.org for additional information.


BELOW IS THE ZOOM MEETING INVITATION:

TUESDAY, AUGUST 4 @ 10:00 A.M. 


Meeting ID: 204 539 6178
Passcode: msa

Monday, July 27, 2020

Back To School Safely In September

"Will there be school in September and what will it look like?" is the question on every parent's mind right now.  

All signs indicate that in-person instruction in New York City will resume in September and our firm wants to make sure you have the information you need to prepare for a safe transition back to school.  

As you may be aware, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued new guidelines in favor of reopening schools this fall.  The CDC emphasized that the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms children with disabilities.  We believe it is imperative that students with disabilities be able to transition back to in-person learning safely as soon as possible.  

When New York City schools re-open, school will consist of a combination of in-person instruction and remote learning (what is being termed "blended learning").  There will be staggered schedules, face coverings, social distancing, and deeper sanitizing.  Recently there has been talk about incorporating outdoor learning as well.  District 75 schools for students with disabilities will have in-person instruction for all of their students, and students with IEPs will be instructed in person as much as possible.

Families can opt to have 100% remote learning.  If they choose to do so, they have until August 7 to inform the Department of Education of their decision.  

NYC also will be offering childcare for parents of young children who are not in school yet and children who are enrolled in blended learning programs for their remote learning days.      

Private schools have been rolling out their own "return to school" plans, which may differ from each other, but likely will include a combination of the NYC public school measures noted above.    

New York State has issued overall guidelines, but it will be up to New York City to figure out the details on its own.  You can stay up-to-date with NYC Department of Education updates here.    

Our firm is here to speak with you regarding your circumstances and guide you patiently through these unusual times.  
If you are an existing client and you have any questions or concerns regarding the above, please contact the associate attorney assigned to your case to discuss the matter further, or contact our office administrator to schedule a virtual meeting.  

If you are not currently a client and you would like to discuss your child's educational rights and explore moving forward, please reach out to our office to schedule a consultation.  

Friday, July 10, 2020

SCOTUS Decides Espinoza et al. v. Montana Department of Revenue et al. And Protects Freedom Of Religion

As parents of special needs students in New York City may know, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) typically argues that, due to separation of church and state considerations ("church" here applying to religion broadly), the DOE cannot use taxpayer dollars to fund religious instruction.  

The result is that, even in instances where the DOE has completely failed to provide a special needs child with a free appropriate public education (FAPE), and the parents have been left with no choice but to enroll their child in a private special education school, the DOE refuses to provide full funding for the student's private school program if the program include religious instruction.  

While it is not uncommon for hearing officers to take a different view of this issue at impartial hearings, during settlement negotiations with the DOE, where parents seek to resolve their claims informally without litigation, the DOE's position has frustrated parents of special needs children seeking to be made whole for the cost of their child's education. 

Enter Espinoza et al. v. Montana Department of Revenue et al., a recent United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision that considered the issue of taxpayer dollars being used for religious purposes.  The New York Times reported on this decision on June 30, accessible here.  

I won't recite the entire factual background, but here are a few main points: 

  • Montana's Constitution barred government aid to any school controlled by a church, sect, or denomination (the "no-aid provision")
  • The Montana legislature created a program to provide tuition assistance to parents who send their children to private schools; tax credits were granted to anyone who donated to organizations that awarded scholarships to students attending private schools 
  • The Montana Department of Revenue chimed in regarding the scholarship program and prohibited families from using scholarships at religious schools 
  • The Montana Attorney General warned the Department of Revenue that excluding religious schools from the program would very likely violate the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against the schools and their students 
  • This lawsuit was brought by parents who were blocked from using scholarship funds for their children's tuition at a religious school, on the basis that the Department of Revenue's rule discriminated against them on the basis of their religious views and the religious nature of the school they had chosen 
  • It is noteworthy that the scholarship organization highlighted in the decision focused on providing scholarships to families have children with disabilities 

In a 5-4 decision (Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh in the majority) whose opinion was written by Chief Justice Roberts, SCOTUS held that Montana discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  

As per SCOTUS, the Free Exercise Clause, which "protects religious observers against unequal treatment," empowers parents to choose a religious school if they so choose.  SCOTUS, quoting Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. . Comer, stated that "disqualifying otherwise eligible recipients from a public benefit 'solely because of their religious character' imposes 'a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny."  

SCOTUS held that the Montana Supreme Court was obligated to disregard the no-aid provision and decide the case consistent with the U.S. Constitution.  Parents have a right to choose the religious upbringing of their children, and many parents exercise that right by sending their children to religious school, which SCOTUS emphasized is protected by the U.S. Constitution.  SCOTUS made clear that a state's interest in separating church and State to a greater extent than the U.S. Constitution cannot qualify as compelling when looking at the infringement of free exercise.    

The same reasoning should be applied to special education due process proceedings with respect to parents' FAPE claims against the DOE for private school tuition funding.  

As Montana discriminated with its no-aid provision, the DOE discriminates based on the religious status of the schools in which parents of special needs children choose to enroll their children.  Telling parents of special needs children whose rights were violated by their local school district that they cannot recover the full tuition for a private school tuition they were forced to find on their own just because the private school includes a religious component is discriminatory.  Provided that a private school with a religious component is able to meet a child's unique special education needs, that student's parents should not be barred from recovering funding for the full cost of such program.  

The New York City DOE, like the State of Montana in Espinoza, is attempting to create a greater separation of church and State than the U.S. Constitution requires.  Preventing special needs parents whose children were denied FAPE from being able to secure funding for religious instruction is, in the words of the Supreme Court (quoting Trinity Lutheran), "'odious to our Constitution' and 'cannot stand.'"  As in Espinoza, the DOE's actions are "especially unconvincing because the infringement broadly burdens not only religious schools but also the families whose children attend them."  

While I don't expect that the DOE will stop attempting to argue against funding for religious instruction, I do believe that this holding from the highest court in our nation arms parents with the authority they need to let school districts know that this type of discrimination on the basis of religion is not permissible and cannot stand.  

Thursday, July 2, 2020

New York City Expects Public Schools To Open For In-Person Classes In September

Today Mayor De Blasio announced that New York City expects public schools to open for in-person classes in September.  Social distancing rules will be followed and student schedules may be staggered.  You can read more here.  

Back To School: See And Seize The Opportunities

In our June 9 blog post, we wrote about Governor Cuomo's executive order stating that necessary, in-person special education instruction may be provided in New York State this summer.  Last week, the New York City Department of Education announced that it would not offer in-person instruction for students with disabilities this summer, despite the Governor's order.  Therefore, it looks like remote instruction will continue over the summer.

Although I do not know exactly what school in the fall will look like, there are a few things I can say confidently.  When in-person school does re-open, it likely will look different than it ever did in the past. It could include various measures including staggered schedules, face coverings, and social distancing within classrooms. Based on what our firm has seen so far, some parents are going to take a wait-and-see approach, while others are going to view their current circumstances as an opportunity. 

Here are three examples:

  • Some parents who are feeling uncertain are not re-enrolling their children in private special education schools right now.  The result: coveted spots at some of NYC's best private special education schools, which typically have waiting lists, may actually have openings.  New families who are ready to act swiftly and commit to the new school year may be able to ensure their child's enrollment there when in-person schooling resumes.

  • Some parents who are feeling uncertain are not pursuing evaluations to identify their child's needs and determine an appropriate program.  The result: families who are pursuing evaluations are finding that they are able to get appointments without the typical months-long wait list.  They will be able to secure evaluations on an expedited basis and will be prepared for applying to schools and justifying their child's placement to their school districts.  Those who are not pursuing evaluations now will be dismayed when the masses decide to pursue them later and appointments become scarce again.

  • Some parents who are feeling uncertain are not engaging legal services.  The result: those who are engaging legal services will have the advantage of being able to file their due process complaints early.  This will minimize delays resulting from the case backlog at the impartial hearing office due to a shortage of impartial hearing officers, allow for faster adjudication of parents' claims and, if they prevail, result in faster disbursement of funds by the school district. 
 
These are trying times and no one knows for certain how the situation will develop. Don't let that stop you from taking the necessary steps to set your child up for success when in-person instruction does continue.