Opinion: Targeting Special Ed Is Unacceptable

Nitkewicz challenges idea that funding is "an area ripe for savings."

South Huntington school trustee Edward J. Nitkewicz writes in response to a Newsday opinion piece.

I am a trustee of the South Huntington Union Free School District school board and the father of a thirteen year old boy who suffers from Autism. Timothy Kremer of the New York State School Boards Association urges Governor Cuomo to address three areas of mandate relief in his second year: relief from the Triborough Amendment, relief from special education services and relief from competitive bidding restrictions.

It is unacceptable that the New York State School Boards Association should advocate for “relief” from providing our neediest children with Special Education services that were denied until 1975. In 1972, when the horrors of Willowbrook State School in Staten Island were uncovered and revealed to the world that children with special needs were simply being warehoused because they were deemed by some to be “uneducable.”

Soon thereafter, the federal government passed the precursor to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which set a minimum standard for education of our neediest children. The State of New York has followed the lead of most states by providing more than just the “bare minimum” to children with special needs.

Mr. Kremer would like the burden of proof in special education disputes to revert back to the family. As Mr. Kremer is aware, families cannot retain counsel on a “contingent” basis and instead must hire attorneys on an hourly basis to dispute unreasonable denials of requests for necessary services.

Of course, school districts have the luxury of calling professional educators and administrators better versed than parents in matters of special education to testify in adversary proceedings. Medical doctors, psychiatrists and therapists charge financially burdened families substantial fees to prepare reports and testify.

I agree that all education services should be reviewed and considered for savings and efficiency during these difficult times. I am disappointed that the New York State School Boards Association, of which I am a member, has elected to identify students with special needs as “an area ripe for savings."

Jennifer Lechich Hattemer January 15, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Edward is a staunch advocate for Special Education and Parents of Children with Special Needs. I commend his articulation of the frustrations parents face daily, and where education fails our children continually. The New York State School Boards Association should be ashamed of themselves.
Jerry Hannon January 16, 2012 at 01:10 AM
As the father of an autistic son, now 22 and no longer part of our NY school system, I applaud Mr Nitewicz for his very public stand. Although the Elwood School Distirct has become much better in serving the autistic population over the past ten years, there was a time -- prior to thoughtful changes within our district -- that my wife and I had to hire an Education Law attorney to force a long-former Superintendent to bring our son into district classes, and out of the out-of-district snake pit where he had been relegated because the Superintendent did not want to have to deal with children on the autistic spectrum. If the law had been as regressive, then, as the representative of the School Boards Association wants the State to become now, then our gentle son would have been left in an environment where he was learning nothing, and was kept apart with students with severe emotional disabilities, and where he was coming home from that BOCES school with bite-marks. We have also learned over the years, from parents of autistic children in other school districts, that many districts are willing to cut corners and "stretch the truth" so that those parents will -- as those districts hope -- go away, and stop "making a fuss." Autistic children, and their parents, still suffer more than they should, and learn less than they should, and they need the help that a more family-friendly State law and SED provide. To go backwards would be immoral and illogical.
kath January 16, 2012 at 02:29 AM
You are the best Ed Nitkewicz!! Keep on them!!!
ITTechpros January 16, 2012 at 04:55 AM
The reason for the abuse is there are so many documented cases of young teens being diagnosed with ADD, AD/HD, BIPOLAR Disorder that are being incorrectly diagnosed to get a student who is looking to get special help who really does not need it. Who needs to be tutored and do there homework and have some counseling. The financial burdon this has created for the state ends up affecting real kids with special needs and ultimatly they suffer due to abuse and mis-diagnosis. This is happening a lot and is a definite factor in this!!
Chris F January 16, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Thank you for having the courage to stand up for those less fortunate. As parents and caretakers for these special souls we need to continue to fight for fairness and equality. While I respect how far schools have come in the last 20 years we must continue to keep up the positive work that has been done. We do not need the world, we just need enough to ensure that they have a safe and productive life with the opportunity for happiness mixed in.
2 Turn Tables January 16, 2012 at 12:55 PM
To advocate cutting special education is immoral and outrageous. I heard the other day that the Huntington High School was going to scrap marching band, because of lack of funding. They will be holding private fundraisers to raise $40K so that there can be marching band. Then one has to ask... "Who is getting a free ride". I know this is a state mandate, but the fact still remains that the illegal apartment dwellings in HS and other areas of Long Island suck the blood from children who have parents that pay into the system.
kate January 16, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Very well said David....if the illegals were counted for in our school system and the slumlords had to pay up instead of our children having to pay up...over crowded classrooms, lack of teachers, etc would be less of an issue. Until Town Board stops turning their heads to this issue...nothing will change..we got one off the board...2 to go !! Hopefully Frank will say goodbye.....how he can spend months in FL and run a town is beyond me !! Back to the subject.... Special needs children deserve the same, if not more, attention as any other child in a school......shame on Cuomo !!!!
Scott Brown January 16, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Timothy Kremer isn't just wrong, he is ignorant. The case law establishing procedural due process in educational placement has been settled for a generation. His speculation about shifting presumptive validity to the school system after decades of well-established discrimination against handicapped kids won't hold up in court for a minute.
twocents January 16, 2012 at 01:59 PM
The diagnosis of autism, adhd, and whatever anagrammed problems you want to state, it is many times 'follow the money'. I do not think there are as many of these cases as we are led to believe. Schools get more money for problem kids. And if the definition of 'special ed' is trying to mainstream these kids into regular classes, this does no one any good. Some of the diagnosis are simply ill discipllined kids as well. Personally, I think parents are subsidized way too much. You want a kid? Pay for all of it yourself.
Scott Brown January 16, 2012 at 03:20 PM
twocents- Any school official would tell you that special education is far from a profit center for school districts. No, the definition of "special ed" isn't simply about putting children in the least restrictive educational environment. The current legal requirement is that children be properly assessed and an appropriate educational plan be developed. You can carp about it but there is no getting around it as the courts, all the way up, have established this as a basic human right.
Jim R. January 16, 2012 at 03:36 PM
I agree that Special Ed shouldn't be cut, but I think they need to revisit how these children are evaluated. In contrast, I think we need to do more for the children who are gifted. They need programs that will provide additional enrichment.
Mary Beth Steenson Kraese January 16, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Thank you Ed for being a voice for the parents of Special Needs children!!! We need someone just like you to fight for our kids rights!
Scott Brown January 16, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Jim- Right. When I did my doctoral research on this -- 35 years ago-- it was clear that educational assessment and placement varied widely based on the sophistication of the parents with less sophisticated parents' kids getting shafted. Even then many people were raising the issue of individual education plans for gifted kids. I haven't been that involved in recent years so I really don't know if the gifted issue has progressed.
Marita Eybergen January 16, 2012 at 04:37 PM
@ Kate, to touch part of your comment on slumlords, and illegal housing, you think it is bad now, you wait since the town passed to legelize apartments in single family homes. It is only going to get worse. And I agree with you on "Shame on Cuomo"
Long Time Res. January 16, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Thank you Ed for keeping us informed, and fighting the ignorant. We all know where the financial problem is. This is not it. Maybe we can have another fourteen hours of budget meetings to discuss 18% of the budget, and two hours to discuss 82% of it. Let's strip all of the services and activities from the kids until there is nothing left, then we will have to fix the real problem. Special Ed kids deserve the educational services, and some type of a diploma if they complete their studies. "Ripe for savings" please.
Michael Balk January 17, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Mr. Nitkewicz thank you for your rebuttal to Mr. Kremer’ op ed piece in Newsday. I missed Mr. Kremer's article and after reading the piece found that it was the type of advocacy one expects from an industry lobbyist. In the section concerning Special Education, Kremer cites both the opportunity to reduce funding but also to restrict parental rights by changing the burden of proof. As for funding, one would expect a person dedicated to representing the interest of education to argue for more funding not to simply reduce our collective standards. Limiting parents ability to advocate on behalf of their children via the legal system, seems frankly more a convenience to his employers than public policy. My assumption is that Mr. Kremer has received a significant amount of criticism by the educational community, including members of school boards. Prior to writing this post, I sent an e-mail to my Assemblyman Andrew P. Raia asking for his comment on the op ed. I encourage everyone to do the same. Cutting funding for the most needing in our school population while advocating a reduction in parent's ability to positively effect their children's education by making school districts accountable - two radical notions that seem completely out of the main stream of our culture.
Kim January 17, 2012 at 01:59 AM
beautifully said Mr Balk
Jen LaVertu January 17, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Very well said Mr Balk. Thank you.
Kirstin February 21, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I couldn't agree with you more, Jim R. South Huntington chose to eliminate their Challenge and Beyond programs last year and offer an enrichment program afterschool at parents' expense. Until the great State of New York MANDATES Gifted Education in our schools, we will continue to see programs for the gifted cut from our school budgets. Sad but true...


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