A Crisis In Special Education: New York City’s Failure Educate Students Classified with ‘Emotional Disability,’ A Proposal for Systemic Change

Disability Justice, Health Justice, Immigrant Justice, News, Special Education

A Crisis In Special Education: New York City's Failure Educate Students Classified with 'Emotional Disability,' A Proposal for Systemic Change.

The New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) has long failed to ad- dress appropriately the specific needs of school-age children with mental health disabilities, who are among the most neglected, underserved, and disadvantaged in New York City (“City” or “NYC”). Although the City has recently published “A Mental Health Plan for NYC” (“Mental Health Plan”), which proposes to combat the City’s mental health crisis and alleviate emotional suffering for New Yorkers with urgent needs, including children, there has been no similar response by the DOE. The mental health and educational needs of the approximately 7,000 NYC public school students with a disability classification formerly known as Emotional Disturbance, and more recently as Emotional Disability (“ED”),2 have been all but ignored.

By a widely disproportionate margin, students classified with ED are students of color from economically disadvantaged backgrounds—nearly 50% are Black, approximately 40% are Latino, and almost 90% are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch.4 Students classified with ED have a wide range of mental health issues affecting their educational performance, including an inability to build interpersonal relationships, a generally pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression, and/or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.5

Although students with ED have been eligible for special education protections under federal law for nearly 50 years, and under New York law for decades longer, students with an ED classification in NYC have been systematically deprived of equal and meaningful access to appropriate educational opportunities and supports for many years. The problem is now at a crisis level.

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