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Special Education in New Rochelle: Keep Costs Down, Assume Parents Will Sue

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Special Education in New Rochelle: Keep Costs Down, Assume Parents Will Sue

August 25, 2008 - 00:37

There are two things parents and guardians must ALWAYS keep in mind when dealing with the Department of Special Education in New Rochelle: (1) the primary mission of the Department of Special Education (DoSE) is to keep the cost of providing for special needs children in New Rochelle to an absolute minimum; (2) the operating assumption of the DoSE at all times is that you will litigate against them; filing an Impartial Hearing complaint with New York State, filing a Civil Rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education or otherwise filing in local, state or federal court.

No matter what pleasing words the District uses in public, these two things are ALWAYS on their minds when dealing with parents. While there are many individuals within the department who are wonderful people, the department as a unit within the larger education bureaucracy is a monolith. It has its own agenda as a bureaucratic creature. Do not confuse a nice, professional special education teacher with the notion that DoSE, as a department, is doing anything other than always looking to protect their interests - not yours.

The DoSE has good reason to be concerned. The world of special education can be very litigious and there is plenty of abuse on all sides. There are both State laws as well as federal civil rights laws that apply. In general, parents should always remember that the District personnel are regularly advised to keep detailed records that can be used later AGAINST the parents. Likewise, they are advised to avoid putting into writing things which can be used against the District by parents. This is why, for example, DoSE staff and administrators prefer to have informal chats with parents. During or immediately after the "chat", the DoSE personnel will make notes and place copies of these notes in the student's file. Those notes become part of the "official record". There is nothing wrong with this and taxpayers should appreciate the effort to prevent unnecessary lawsuits against the District. That said, parents generally do not make notes. Even if they do take notes, they will end up in a "he said-she said" argument where the District's notes are part of the "official record" placing parents at a decided disadvantage in any legal proceedings.

Be Smart - Open Your Own File on Your Child, Keep Good Records

Just as "good fences make good neighbors", keeping your own detailed records of your dealings with the District will dramatically improve your chances of successfully protecting the interests you and your child. The DoSE stores records in paper files in City Hall, additional records are stored at the student's school if a public school student. The District also stores records in various computer applications. When it suits their interest they write "memos to file" letters and stick them in your child's case folder along with meeting notes. You can do the same thing in making contemporaneous notes of your interactions with the District.

Pay close attention to the indicia date and letter date on any mail coming from the District and highlight any discrepancies. The DoSE also has "received" stamps and a postal meter which can be used to create a dated "indicia" for ANY date it wants. This indicia appears to many people to be a "cancellation" stamp and therefore believe that the date has some legal significance. It does not. Neither the post office or the courts accept this indicia date because the date is subject to very easy manipulation by the sender. For this reason, only send letters to the District via certified mail or overnight carrier. When you receive a letter from the District, staple the envelope to the letter and write "Received" and the day's date on both the envelope and the letter. They do this; so should you.