Agudath Israel Convenes Dialogue Between NYC DOE and Special Ed Yeshiva Administrators
On Monday, April 15, shortly before Pesach, Project LEARN, Agudath Israel’s special education division, hosted a meeting of New York City special education yeshivos with Howard Friedman, General Counsel of the city’s Department of Education, and the leadership of the DOE Special Education Unit. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the long, crippling delays in the DOE’s processing of tuition reimbursement settlements for children in nonpublic special education schools.
In 2014, thanks in part to the efforts of New York State Senator Simcha Felder, New York City instituted a policy that would expedite tuition reimbursement for children attending nonpublic special education schools for whom such reimbursement had been agreed to by the DOE’s attorneys.
“The new policy worked fairly well for the first two or three years,” said Mrs. Leah Steinberg, director of Project LEARN. “However, the reimbursement system has suffered a substantial setback over the past two years. Reimbursements have slowed down dramatically, and this has created tremendous difficulties for our special ed yeshivos.”
The problem was discussed intensively this past October, at an earlier meeting convened by Agudath Israel with yeshiva and DOE officials. What emerged from the discussions was an acknowledgement that the DOE was short-staffed, with an insufficient number of lawyers to handle the growing number of such tuition reimbursement cases.
Recognizing the urgency of adding additional attorneys to the DOE’s special ed unit, Agudath Israel followed up on the October meeting by lobbying City Hall to allocate additional funds to hire new DOE lawyers to deal as expeditiously as possible with the back-up in the reimbursement system. That lobbying effort, along with other contributing factors, bore fruit several weeks later when the city’s budget office (OMB) did allocate new funds for the hiring of additional attorneys in the DOE special ed unit.
At the April 15 meeting, Mr. Friedman reported that the DOE had brought in over 20 new lawyers to help “unclog the system.” He acknowledged that the backlog was substantial, and that improvements in the reimbursement system would be gradual as the new lawyers become acclimated to the system. However, Mr. Friedman expressed optimism that the upgrades in staffing would help speed up the process in the months to come.
“The fact that these ranking officials in the Department of Education came to the Agudah’s offices to dialogue with us, speaks to the respect they have for all the special needs children in New York City,” said Mrs. Leah Steinberg, director of Project LEARN. “I very much look forward to the positive steps that we discussed being put into practice, and so were all the school principals who joined us.” The special education yeshivos that participated in the meeting include Bonim Lamokom, CAHAL, Gesher Yehuda, HaOr Beacon, Ichud Mosdos Hachinuch of Brooklyn, Ivdu, Kulanu, Lev Uvois, Pathways, PTach, STEP, Yaldeinu, YESS, and Yeshiva Livnas Hasapir.