Megan Johannesen, Disability Justice Intern, City Council Testimony Regarding Int. 0399-2024

Disability Justice, News, Special Education

A photo of the interior of New York City Hall, a green room with a high ceiling and rows of desks at a podium, with a speaker sitting near American and Irish flags. Photo by Megan Johannesen

Comments of Megan Johannesen, Law Student Intern of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest to Council of the City of New York Committee on Education on June 18, 2024 regarding Int. 0399-2024

My name is Megan Johannesen, and I am a law student intern at the Disability Justice Program of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). Thank you, Council Members, for allowing us to speak on Int. 399 and to promote school accessibility in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state and local non-discrimination laws. NYLPI interacts with students with disabilities and their families daily, and we hear about the difficulties they face in receiving services at school. In our work trying to help find appropriate programs for students, the availability of accessible schools and programs within the schools is a critical issue, but these programs should be easily available to all parents and advocates. 

 We join Advocates for Children in asking the City Council to promote accessibility in New York City public schools for people with disabilities, including students, families and caretakers, teachers, administrators, and anyone who needs to enter the schools. The ADA requires state and local governments to make reasonable modifications for accessibility and follow federal accessibility standards when constructing new or renovated facilities. Access (Still) Denied, Advocates for Children (Aug. 23, 2023), https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/0cd31f41c8224f68a91b913b733bf46d. However, at the start of the 2023-2024 school year, only 494 of 1,587 schools were fully accessible, which is fewer than one third of all schools in New York City. Id. When a school is not accessible, students may not be able to attend schools in their neighborhood. Id. In order to make at least half the schools fully accessible by 2029, the City must invest at least $1.25 billion for school accessibility projects. Id.; City Education Budget Priorities for FY 2025 1, Advocates for Children, https://advocatesforchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/fy25_budget_priorities.pdf, (last updated June 2024). 

In addition to ensuring physical accessibility in New York City public schools, we must make data about school placements and services for students with disabilities easily accessible to the entire community and subject to greater oversight by policymakers. As discussed in the recently published NYLPI report entitled “A Crisis in Special Education: New York City’s Failure to Educate Students Classified with ‘Emotional Disability’ — A Proposal for Systemic Change,” there are over 7,000 students in the New York City education system who are classified as having an “emotional disability.” Critical data is incredibly difficult to come by, even for those who have the ability to file a Freedom of Information Law request. The NYLPI report identified an urgent need for the Department of Education (DOE) to collect data about students classified with an “emotional disability,” including data about Black and Latino students who are classified with an “emotional disability” at vastly disproportionate rates relative to their percentage in the school population.

Children with disabilities deserve the City’s commitment to investing in their education, including, most critically, investing in accessible schools and collection and publishing relevant educational data. Thank you for your time and attention.

Megan Johannesen, Intern

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
151 West 30th Street, 11th floor
New York, NY  10001
[email protected]
(212) 244-4664

Photo by Megan Johannesen


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