Sunday, September 16, 2007


I was trying. I was trying hard. One thing that stood out to me the most during my pre-service classes at my university was the necessity for special education teachers to accept their role as an advocate for their students. We spent almost two or three sessions on advocacy.

A reoccurring theme that I was starting to notice was that with special education students, many times the train leaves them at the station, so to say. Nobody pushes for them, nobody fights for them. And there are many factors for this. Parents often times do not activate their power as the primary advocate for their child for two main reasons- either they do not have time to navigate and learn the bureaucratic machine called the Department of Education (DOE). To know this machine requires knowledge of its language (similar to a foreign language!), the way it’s organized, and patience! Or the parents simply just do not know of the parental powers of which they have.

So when a situation came up which I figured could use some beginner’s advocacy assistance from my end for one of my students, I jumped to the occasion. However, I realized only later that I was going up against a monster, even though it appeared at first to only be a molehill.

Bus service.

One of my students has bus service per his I.E.P. This means that the DOE provides door-to-door service to him at no cost. Bus service for general ed students stops at 5th grade, so it is really only special education students that have this type of service. I became aware of this particular problem while calling “Mike’s” family in the days before school started. I decided to call all of my students’ families to 1) introduce myself to them, and 2) to see if they had any pressing issues or concerns before the start of school. Mike’s Mother told me that everything was fine except that information about Mike’s bus service hadn’t arrived. Ok bet. I told her that I would look into it and I would call her back. Surely I could have told her that she needed to call the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) to ask why the information hadn’t been arrived. But naw yo, ‘I got this! Let me try out my roll as an advocate,’ I thought to myself.

So I called OPT. I waited on hold to speak to someone for 27 minutes. Come to find out, Mike’s NYC DOE ID number was not even in the system so the lady on the phone couldn’t help me whatsoever. Ok bet. No problem- let me call the DOE. After holding for 46 minutes, the lady who picked up the phone was ready to help me until I told her that Mike is a special ed student. She cut me off mid sentence and in a matter of fact way (I don’t blame her, she was probably tired), she told me that the DOE does not deal with services as it relates to special education students. Ok, let me try the Office of Special Education Services- surely they would be able to help us because after all, it is on their very own paperwork (IEP) that grants Mike this service!

They were able to locate Mike. They saw that he in fact has bus service, but the destination school was incorrect!! The destination was for PS XXX, the elementary school that he graduated from. I repeat- the school he graduated from last spring.

I’ve spent over a week calling what seemed like the entire NYC DOE and I have had very little luck making progress. There really is no positive end to this story. Mike still doesn’t have bus service to the correct school, and his mother daily calls me wanting an update. I asked my principal if she could help to resolve this problem, and she has been working on it for a few days.

My work as an advocate is clearly going to be a difficult task- no matter how big or small the battle is that I attempt to resolve.


Repairman said...

NYC, there will be a special place in heaven for special ed advocates. I'm sure of that, and I'm not all that religious!

The patience and persistence you modeled in dealing with bureaucratic complexity (insanity) are what makes the big difference for your students. What parent could pull that off? Not one in a hundred, although that one is out there too.

Makes me wonder if advocates shouldn't pool knowledge and experience. Any way to do that?

Keep the pressure on.

Nancy said...

Special ed in NYC is f'ed up, to be quite frank. It's so bad that my sister finds it worth it to be in the poorhouse so that my nephew can go to a special ed private school (the state pays for some of it, my sister pays the rest.)

Does your school have a parent coordinator and/or a special ed AP? Have you tried enlisting their assistance?

NYC Teaching Fellow said...

Repairman- It was a trip! I mean- I was like- how hard could this really be?? Make a few phone calls, and boom- my guy will be sorted.. Nawwwww. Its crazy..

Nancy- yea yo- I see why we spent so much time on advocacy in my courses at the university.. It is a crucial part of our job. And no, it is a newer/smaller school, so we don't have any APs!! A parent coordinator I could see in the making of..

Thanks both for the support..

Athena-Liana Smith said...

I understand the frustration and I applaud the effort.
Compare the situation with what is going on in other countries where there is nothing resebling special ed classes.
Buses for students with special needs? Not in your wildest dreams.
I know, I come from Greece and if you have any learning disability you are doomed to a life of marginality.

So to add something positive on that week of endless frustration.
Here, in the US, we are years ahead in certain areas. At least it looks like it to those of us who saw the other side as well.

Again, I applaud the effort and I certainly believe improvements need to be made.We can afford them and we need them too!

subtext said...

Holy Moley! What a nightmare! This is why so many teachers spend so much of their own time and money on their students; the swamp of red tape (yes, I am mixing metaphors, so what) is overwhelming. My small experience this summer with trying to get my doctoral classes in education to count for my professional development days was a struggle. It seems they were not sure if classes at The University of Texas (the dominant university in the area) would be acceptable; as compared to some class on how to use power point in the class. They (admin) constantly demand that we act like professionals yet they refuse to let us be professionals.

Keep putting your students first and they will succeed. Yes, I am a pollyanna at heart.

Jose said...

Yo, stories like these make me wonder why BloomKlein spend so much time on things like test scores when even the small stuff isn't even on point. Makes me wanna write a post.

and ryc(response to your comment): it isn't just white people. In my school, it's usually the Latinos coming in with a lack of dress code.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your efforts so far. Remember not to stop until you get the student what he needs.

Also consider that you need to teach his mother how to negotiate the system. Give her the phone numbers, a detailed written record of your experiences, and tell her what she and her son need to be doing every day until things change.

You need to empower the parent in order to best help this student not just with getting a bus, but with life afterward.

It also sounds like the student isn't in school because of the bussing issue. If that is true, all three of you need to put a plan in place to get this student an education NOW. Not wait until he can get to school because he will be weeks or months behind.

And be ready for all the issues that arise with the SPED bus service after it is in place. The bus driver's schedule takes priority over education.

Anne said...

I commend your efforts, but don't burn yourself out on this. It is easy to me I have been there.

If you want to be a teacher with a capital "T" teach the student how to advocate for themselves. You will, no doubt, have to fight for the bus, but teach him or her how to ask teachers for their services (i.e. how to ask for more time). This will put the student on the path to becoming an advocate for him/her self.