The Special Education Reform and Its Unintended Consequences: Part 1

Like you, and perhaps like many other educators, administrators, and parents, I was excited when the New York City Department of Education adopted the Special Education Reform.  At that time, I was working with the specialized district in the city, namely District 75, and I was seeing the influx of students whom I felt could have been given a better chance in a regular school, perhaps with supports, perhaps with a self-contained setting.  I was appalled at the numbers of students who were referred to District 75 daily.  So, when the special education reform became policy, I could not wait to see its results.  What I could not anticipate was how quickly I would get to see its unintended consequences.

My brother Fernando, whose LRE was District 75

For starters, what is the special education reform?  To answer this question, I am going to be specific to New York City, even though similar versions of this have happened everywhere in the United States.  The New York City Department of Education decided the citywide rollout of this policy would start in the Fall of 2012, with a partial rollout as early as 2010.  It entailed following the provisions of the law at its core, regarding diligence when applying the LRE (least restrictive environment) to placement of children in special programs.  At its heart, the special education reform “is aimed at ensuring that all students with disabilities are educated to high academic standards, in the least restrictive setting that is academically appropriate, and at the same schools they would have access to if they did not have IEPs,” as then-Chancellor Walcott said in a letter.

My brother Fernando, whose LRE was District 75

As I mentioned, this all sounds good.  After all, we are following the letter of the law and applying its provisions.  Right?  That’s what I thought at the beginning.  I felt that too many students were being recommended services in a specialized school that could be managed in a regular school.  But what happened after the beginning of the rollout (between 2010 and 2012), was that many of the students who would have stayed at their regular schools in self-contained classes (see the continuum of services here), were now being recommended for District 75 schools. 

Why was this happening?  Many of the psychologists I talked to told me that since their schools were no longer supporting self-contained classes (whether in elementary, middle school, or high school), they felt that the children they were supporting would be better served in a smaller class, even if that meant transferring them to a specialized school.  This was the opposite of what the reform intended!  I was appalled, but I was even more appalled at the fact that there were close to zero self-contained classes available for these children that needed them.

My brother Fernando, whose LRE was District 75

Over time, and while I was still working with District 75, we noticed that the influx of students who had specialized school recommendations waned a bit, and for me, this meant that perhaps students were receiving more accurate recommendations at the school level.  Little did I know what was happening on the other side of the fence.  Students in public schools were being recommended classes in their regular public schools, but the services were far from being accurate for the children they were supposed to serve.

Do you want to learn more about the special education reform and its unintended consequences?

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow and check out our YouTube channel and free/private Facebook group.

See you tomorrow!

Dr. Ingrid Amorini-Klimek.

The Long Blink: A Must-Have Book

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When I first read about The Long Blink, I became really interested because I thought this book would illustrate what I, as many other family members and advocates for families of individuals with disabilities, have always been saying:  That a “disability” can be acquired by anyone, at any time, and can change a life in a moment.  The Long Blink surpassed my expectations. This is the story of a family, the Slattery family, and for Ed Slattery and his family, it only took a blink of an eye, a long blink that would change his and his children’s lives forever.

Ed Slattery could not have imagined that a phone call in August of 2010 would turn his life upside down.  The voice on the other line was telling him to get there immediately:  His family had been in an accident.  He would later learn that while both his children had been severely injured by this accident, it was his younger son’s prognosis that was very worrisome.  He would also learn that his wife, the love of his life, Susan Slattery, had died in this accident.

I wish I had enough space to talk about the many reasons why I think this book should be read by the entire world, but since this is not possible, I will try to illustrate in just a few points why I think this book is an absolute must-have for anyone who wishes to understand our community:

  1. Life can change in an instant:  Anything can happen to anyone, at any time.  For the Slattery family, it was Matthew who from one moment to the next, went from a normally-developing young boy, to battling for his life, to making heart-wrenching efforts to be able to hold objects with his right hand.
  2. Special Needs need Special Attention:  Even though well-meaning people may have the best intentions at heart, and may think they can define what our community needs, it is only our community that can and should be an active participant in decision making.  For Ed Slattery, it was building a new home so that Matthew can fully participate in daily living.  For me, it was being able to get a gate pass to accompany my brother to the gate when he flies.  I can’t say enough how frustrating and depressing it was for me to have to work in places where I was told what “script” to follow when dealing with families in our community.   Once, I was reprimanded for giving a parent options.  This practice is humiliating, demoralizing, and just plainly wrong.  In his journey, Ed Slattery discovers how important it is to adapt to his son’s new life and how much growth can result from this adaptation.
  3. Our Community is Inspiring:  Matthew not only inspired and moved his father, Ed, to a whole-new life, but he also changed the lives of so many people around him.  It is easy to see how learning about Matthew and the Slattery family was a transforming experience for Brian Kuebler, the journalist and author of this book.  He was sent to report on this accident first but never lost sight of this family’s experience.  The result was this brilliantly written book and the message of hope and solidarity that it inspires.
  4. Change is Difficult:  As members of this community, we tend to understand firsthand how we got here and what changes need to be made so that others do not have to suffer.  The community at-large, however, may have a much more difficult time absorbing this knowledge.  Since the accident that changed his son’s life, Ed Slattery has been a tireless advocate for trucking safety regulations, as it was a truck driver who dozed off on the road and killed his wife.  As frustrating as this has been for him, he has yet to see the full results of his arduous work.

Reading this book was a very personal journey for me.  It often reminded me of my family, growing up, the challenges and obstacles that we faced.  I’m thankful that because of our advocacy over the years, life has become a bit more manageable for families today.  Reading about the Slattery family leaves me full of admiration not only for Ed and his family, but also for the incredible families out there whom I’ve worked with, and who deal with these issues, day in and day out.

It also deepens my already gigantic admiration for my parents, because it is only through their love that I learned to love our very special village.

Get this book!  Share it with the World!

two trucks on the road

3 Frequent CPSE and CSE questions answered: New York City Parents

It is not secret that growing up is hard to do. Try seeing your kids grow up: It is extremely hard. Now add special needs to the mix, and you get a very, very difficult situation in your hands! Why does this happen?

Change evokes anxiety in everyone. Some people are more equipped to handle this type of anxiety and have developed adequate coping mechanisms. For many of us, any change in our routine can be very stressful, and a child growing up (in some cases too fast!), can be a source of insurmountable stress.

Let’s just say that the educational system as it is does not make it any better. In New York City, children move from kindergarten to first grade, from fifth grade to middle school, and from middle school to high school in a blink of an eye! Parents can’t keep up with all these graduations, moving-on ceremonies, and yes, applications.

For families of children with special needs, transitions are especially stressful as they need to attend evaluations and meetings during these times. In New York City, parents can easily get confused with these procedures.

As a special educator, special family member, and advocate for people with special needs, I often have to answer questions from parents who are worried about what happens when their children get older. Let’s review three of their most common questions and explore possible answers:

1) What happens when my child turns 3 and no longer receives early intervention services? With parents’ consent, children receive an evaluation that will get them ready to start a program at that time. If your child qualifies, she/he will be eligible to get an extension of the services he already receives until she/he starts the program!

2) What happens when my child turns 5 and can no longer attend his/her preschool program? With parents’ consent, children receive a new evaluation, and a new program (for kindergarten) will be determined. Technically, most schools should be able to serve most students with special needs. However, if this is not the case, a different program will be selected. This can be a difficult process and parents do well in pursuing the help of a professional at this time.

3) Can I still submit and application for Pre-K or Kindergarten, even if my child had an evaluation? The answer is yes! Whether your child will attend one of these programs will depend on what his/her needs are, but you can (and should) make sure that you submit those applications. We never what the future has in store. This will ensure you cover all bases!

Family having dinner.
Dr. Klimek and her special village.

If you have any questions or comments, please drop me a note!

Living a Life of Purpose: New Year Reflections

“I could be lost inside their lies without a trace
But every time I close my eyes I see your face ” Sting, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.

It seems somewhat incredible, unbelievable, that it has already been over 6 months since I cut ties with my employer of almost 22 years and became self-employed.  Let’s just say that the writing was on the wall, or rather, it had been on the wall for quite some time.  I had never been a firm believer in signs or the universe sending a message, or things of that nature,  but in this case, the message was loud and clear:  It was time to let go.

Now, I had always thought that if I was ever to leave my employer of so many years, it would be for something worthwhile.  In my case, “worthwhile” meant making the jump from employee to entrepreneur.  What I didn’t know at the time was that six months in, I was going to find so much happiness, fulfillment, and sense of purpose doing what I currently do.

 A year ago, I had insomnia, and  could not sleep for days, from the stress that my job caused me.  I lost weight and was put on medication to manage symptoms of PTSD.  This year, I lay awake at night just reflecting on the incredible things I get to live day by day.  Life has certainly changed, and I am extremely thankful to those who “wrote on my wall,” as they, in their quest to make my life impossible, managed to make it incredibly purposeful.  Sometimes the Universe does work in odd ways.

And if you think that money is the reason I’m saying all of this, you’re wrong.  Even though I have been very fortunate in that department, I can honestly say that the reason for this incredible emotion is the fact that for the first time in my life, I get to do, every single day, and every single moment of the day, what I believe in, what I love to do. 

These emotions became all the more clear in during the last two weeks of 2019.  Each end of the year and beginning of a new year tend to mark a tone of reflection.  This was especially true in my case, as I was able to spend those days making connections that will last a lifetime and will truly make the world a better place. I welcomed the new year in a completely incredible, positive, and new-for-me state of mind. 

I was also lucky, very, very lucky to be able to spend those days surrounded by family and friends, the kind that love you no matter what and support you always.  I could almost hear my late father whisper in my ear “I told you so,” so many times.  He will always be my guiding star and my inspiration.  He used to love the song by Sting “If I Ever Lose my Faith in You.”  We used to sing it together.

Dr. Klimek and her family

Dad, wherever you are, thank you for never losing your faith in me. Thank you for showing me the way, always.

Recommended Products and Activities

Hello families out there! Welcome to the new section of this blog for Recommended Products and Activities that are useful and relevant for our families!

One of the most frequent questions that I get asked, and very often, is what kinds of products I recommend to optimize children’s learning.  Of course, I have an arsenal of answers, depending on the child’s needs and the family’s need. 

I will be dedicating this section of the blog to those products that I find most helpful, and will be talking about tips and strategies related to those products.  And why not, I will also talk about products that I have found useful for PARENTS!  Yes, you busy parents out there!  We will talk about the latest or the most relevant movie, book, and even vacation.  We will talk about activities that you can do by yourselves, to celebrate the incredible families that you are, and activities that you can do as a special family, paying special attention to places that are accessible to our children.

Please check out this section.  Updates will be posted shortly!

Notebook, pencils, watercolor, and scissor
Tips on what to buy and what to do!

The Special Education Continuum Explained: How to Determine the Best Placement for your Child-Part 2

(Please read background post here)

What is the best class for my child?

This is the most common question that I hear from parents who are getting ready to have a Turning 3* or a Turning 5** IEP meeting.  It is also a common concern for parents whose children have been recently diagnosed and will be in a similar situation.  The truth is, the right placement depends on your child’s needs, and your child’s needs should be at the heart of every IEP meeting that will result in a recommendation for placement for any student.

“But, wait”!  You may say.  “My child has just been diagnosed with Williams Syndrome.  Doesn’t that mean that he will need a much more restrictive environment, like perhaps a 12.1.4 self-contained class”?  Not necessarily.  Having a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that the student will AUTOMATICALLY be placed in a certain type of setting.  The diagnosis, or educational label, may inform the team and the providers as to what methods, strategies, and techniques may be useful for your child to learn optimally, but labels do not determine specific needs for every child. Neither can a diagnosis determine how much contact your child will have with his/her typically developing peers. 

Ideally, the IEP team at your child’s school (or at the regional Committee of Special Education) will have conducted an evaluation that covers every area of your child’s development.  This evaluation will help determine specific needs in the different domains, such as the cognitive, social, affective, and language domains.  You should make sure that the team that evaluated your child explains what was observed and what this would mean for assessing your child’s recommendation.  Please remember that you are also an integral part of the IEP team, and your feedback will provide invaluable input and will help the team determine what is best in your child’s case.

What happens if members of the team disagree on what recommendation to make?  Of course, in an unrealistic world all members of all teams agree on everything.  Of course, this is not a good way to grow.  We do well when we reveal our ideas and share them.  We may come up with better scenarios.  As a parent, do not be hesitant to share what you think and feel!  It is important! 

What happens if no matter what is said, the team does not agree with the parent?  There are certain resources to pursue in this case.  We will explore these and more in Part 3.  Stay tuned!

As always, if you have questions, drop me a note.

Best Placement Options
We all benefit when our special loved ones experience the best educational placement!
  • Turning 3 refers to an IEP meeting carried out when the child ages out of the Early Intervention Program and is ready to join preschoolers.
  • Turning 5 refers to an IEP meeting carried out when the child ages out of preschool and is ready to join elementary school peers.

Cafe Argentino Restaurant

There isn’t enough positive feedback that could be said about Café Argentino Restaurant, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York.  I have had the opportunity to bring my very own special family to dinner many times, and the owners, Cristian and Valerie Herrera, make us feel like family every single one of those times.  The food is amazing, and the ambiance, warmth, and welcoming environment are absolutely fantastic.

Dr. Klimek with Cristian and Valerie Herrera

Special families are put in a tough spot at times, when the need to go out to dinner or engage in any type of social activity arises.  Children, youth, or even adults with disabilities don’t always react in very social-appropriate ways when confronted with situations that make them uncomfortable, and many social situations tend to make them uncomfortable.  This leads to isolation for their families, which in turn produces a feeling of being disengaged from society.  Cristian, Valerie, and the staff at Café Argentino have the tact, loving-kindness, and life experience that can put families at ease.  My mother often asks me to bring her and my brother there as she feels absolutely “at home.”

Dr. Klimek with her family at Cafe Argentino

Café Argentino has recently partnered with a non-profit organization, The Bocha Project ( http://www.thebochaproject.org )to help them raise funds for various programs that promote inclusion and inclusive practices around the world.  Cristian and Valerie have expressed their desire to make their own workplace more inclusive, as they would like to employ adults with disabilities that are interested in working in the restaurant industry in any capacity.  For their progressive and inclusive practices, Our Special Village would like to say Thank You Café Argentino!  Keep up the good work!

The Bocha Project at a fundraising event at Cafe Argentino

You can visit them at:

Café Argentino

499 Grand Street

Brooklyn, NY 11211

718-782-9477