NEW YORK - A new class action lawsuit alleges the city's special education system is buckling under the weight of more than 10,000 outstanding legal claims.
The suit was filed on behalf of five students with disabilities -- all of whom are awaiting what's called a due process hearing. They're held when a parent requests a new evaluation of their child, when parents think their child's Individualized Education Plan is inadequate or is not being followed or when they're seeking to place their child in a private school at the city's expense.
Advocates say the hearing process is rife with delays.
"I hope it helps. We have a number of clients who have been waiting for months, sometimes a year, to get a hearing and get their due process so that their children can get the services that they need," Rebecca Shore, director of litigation for Advocates for Children, said.
By law, an impartial hearing officer is supposed to make a decision in 75 days. But that's now taking an average of 259 days -- partly because of a severe shortage of hearing officers. The case is being handled pro bono by the New York Legal Assistance Group and law firm Simon & Cromwell.
It charges that: "The price for this dysfunctional system has been paid by new York's most vulnerably residents: pre-school- and school-age children with disabilities that affect their ability to learn."
Even when a due process hearing is held there are often delays in implementing the decision. In a separate legal action, the nonprofit Advocates for Children said the city was not fulfilling its promises under a 12-year-old settlement to implement the orders of hearing officers more quickly.
"Every step in the process needs to be fixed," Shore said.
The schools chancellor was grilled on the delays at a legislative hearing in Albany on Tuesday.
"I hear you talk about Equity for All in the agenda constantly. I don't hear equity for special education students," State Sen. Andrew Gounardes said.
"I can assure you sir that this is a priority for us that we are in the weeds really undoing and redoing what we need to do to serve our community," Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza replied.
The city says it is settling more cases to help speed up the process and expediting pay for impartial hearing officers.