Parents Report Displacement and Disruptions in Special Needs Classrooms, After Vaccine Mandate

Parents Report Displacement and Disruptions in Special Needs Classrooms, After Vaccine Mandate

By Yehudit Garmaise

     New York City reports that it has more than enough vaccinated substitutes to fill in for the teachers who refuse vaccination, and therefore have been put on unpaid leave until they get their shots, however, matching substitutes is not so easy in classrooms that teach children with special needs. 

     Many Boro Park students with developmental delays, for instance, whose families speak Yiddish at home, have on their Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) that they require teachers who also speak Yiddish to be able to understand their lessons.

     One BoroPark24 reader, for instance, reported that the bilingual teacher of his nonverbal son was replaced last week with a Spanish-speaking teacher, who the Jewish children in the classroom could not understand.

     While some parents of special needs students report that their children are feeling more distress, displacement, and a lack of comprehension as a result of the mismatched substitutes, many parents also feel devastated and anxious that their children are going to lose another year of education, after last year’s ineffective, twice-weekly lessons on Zoom.

     Although the Boro Park boy’s parents report that they are grateful that “he is happy to go to school,” they also worry that his longtime class has been broken up and placed in classrooms that linguistically and culturally do not match the children’s own.

     In addition to linguistic and cultural roadblocks, other parents of special needs students report that therapists in District 75, which teach children with special needs, and other public schools are not showing up for appointments and that, sometimes, new, inexperienced therapists are providing sub-par care for the students.

     “The children with autism were the ones who were affected the most by the pandemic, and they had no instruction or therapies over the summer, ” one reporter pointed out to Mayor Bill De Blasio today. “Already there is a delay, and children with special needs regress if we don’t continue providing those services.

     “Special-needs’ kids, especially those with autism, need routines and things not being interrupted.”      

     “If a teacher has left the school, We have to find the right replacement,” responded the mayor, who added that 96% of the city’s teachers did get their shots and have remained in their classrooms.

     “Plus, thousands of educational employees have gotten vaccinated since the deadline,: said the mayor. “We think we are going to see more and more folks coming back, but where there needs to be replacement, we have a lot of quality, vaccinated teachers ready to go, and maybe there will be a period of adjustment, but they will be able to serve their students, unquestionably.

     “The disruption of COVID harmed the education of kids across the board. But for kids with special needs: they were hit very, very hard.”

     The best way for families of special needs to raise issues and complaints is to start with teachers, principals, and superintendents, advised Education Chancellor Meisha Ross-Porter, who added New Yorkers can call 311 to reach District 75 Superintendent Ketler Louissaint and the DOE’s deputy chief academic officer for students with disabilities is Christina Foti, both of whom the chancellor described as “phenomenal” and “two advocates that ensure that our most vulnerable students receive the support and services they need.

    “We want to hear if there are specifically community schools, students, and families that they are concerned about the services,” added Commissioner Ross-Porter.

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