It’s an understatement to say that we live in fraught times with regards to immigration. New York’s public schools stand out as a safe haven from the tumult of the immigration policies. Regulations state that any student, regardless of where in the country or world they arrive from, can enroll and remain in school up until age 21. It was therefore very surprising that the older sister (J.) of a recently-arrived 19 year-old young man with an intellectual disability encountered unexpected obstacles when she referred her brother for special education services and school enrollment.
J started by visiting the Committee on Special Education (CSE) office in person, planning to submit a recently completed independent evaluation that diagnosed her brother, C., with an intellectual disability. CSE staff declined her request for referral, however, sending her to the Family Welcome Center instead. She followed that advice and tried to enroll C, following the same process any new New York City resident would follow. But she met a dead end here, too. It appears that because her brother was 19 and had no high school credits from his home country, the Welcome Center judged he wouldn’t be on track to earn a diploma. They suggested C apply for ACCES-VR services, which offer job-skills training for people with disabilities instead of attending school.
These outcomes were frustrating for the siblings, whose goal was school placement. J contacted us for advice. We learned that the CSE office declined to accept the referral because they assumed J did not have have the standing of a parent or guardian, even though they had not asked. But she did meet the definition of a parent under the IDEA, which states that a parent could be someone “acting in the place of a birth or adoptive parent, including a grandparent, step-parent, or other relative, with whom the child resides or a person who is legally responsible for the child’s welfare.” J also had a notarized letter from their father before he left the U.S. that confirmed her parental role.
We advised her to develop a document folder, which included her proof of address, the notarized letter from her father, her letter of referral to the CSE and C’s independent evaluation. She returned to the CSE with the folder only to face another surprise: without asking questions or requesting records,the CSE again declined to accept the referral. J called us on the spot, and our prompting led to the documents’ review and the referral being accepted. Ultimately J was found eligible for special education services and programs and it is likely he will remain in school through age 21, as the law promises.
But why was it so difficult?
What if you are a youth living in uncertain housing, without a parent or legal guardian?