But More Parents Say Their Children Are Being Rejected; Class Action Lawsuit Filed

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — CBS2 has an update on a story it first reported Sunday night.

As New York City schools operate remotely, some say a city day care program is turning away students with special needs.

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CBS2’s Lisa Rozner demanded answers on behalf of one mother, and Monday she got action.

“She had to stay home. I was not able to secure any child care, so I cancelled my in-court appearance,” Kristin Bruan said.

Bruan, a public defender with the Legal Aid Society, feels defeated by city schools. She spent Monday morning hearing criminal cases virtually, and had to isolate her 9-year-old daughter, Alice, who has ADHD, to learn in a separate room. Monday was supposed to be Alice’s first day enrolled in the city’s free child care program, known as Learning Bridges, being held at a tennis club on Roosevelt Island where Bruan lives.

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“I don’t want to be on virtual school anymore,” Alice said.

On Sunday, CBS2 reported the site accepted — and then rescinded — Alice’s seat, saying it could not enroll children with individualized education plans (IEP) due to staffing limitations. The city said it would follow up with the family Sunday night.

“No. Never. Not yesterday, not this morning, not today,” Bruan said.

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On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio even claimed he had not heard of anyone being turned away, including Bruan’s daughter.

“If a child was turned away, a family that qualified their child was turned away, that’s just wrong. We won’t allow that. We’ll track down that situation and make sure that that child gets a seat In Learning Bridges for sure,” the mayor said.

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“He’s lying… shame on the mayor,” said Bruan, who heard from parents across the five boroughs who applied for multiple Learning Bridges programs. “Just in the last 72 hours I’ve had about 30 parents reaching out to me, telling me that their children were also turned away because their children had learning disabilities.”

On Monday afternoon, it was not the city, but Skip Hartman, who oversees the Learning Bridges program on Roosevelt Island, that told Bruan a mistake was made, and Alice will have a spot Tuesday.

“It’s just three weeks. We’ve had to hire a lot of people. I did not focus clearly enough on the distinction between special needs children,” Hartman said. “As a result of the CBS story, I’ve had to refocus on that issue.”

But Hartman only oversees the program on Roosevelt Island. Parents elsewhere said other Learning Bridges programs, overseen by other administrators, are not accommodating their kids. Heather Fisher of Queens said one could not accommodate her son, Jordan, who is on the autism spectrum.

“And I was like, what happened if you have a student who needs a lot of redirection? ‘Well you know this may not be the best setting for them,'” Fischer said.

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Advocates for Children of New York said it has been getting the complaints, and has been asking the city to increase funding and staff to Learning Bridges programs. On Monday evening, Advocates for Children of New York filed a class action lawsuit against New York City’s Department of Education on behalf of students with disabilities.

Link: Read the lawsuit (.pdf)

“Tens of thousands of students with disabilities have gone months without appropriate educational services, with many losing the progress they had made. These students should receive the compensatory services they need as quickly as possible, without having to jump through cumbersome legal hurdles that will favor families able to afford lawyers and leave economically disadvantaged students behind,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of AFC.

A city spokesperson said students with disabilities are being given priority, and small group sizes are being offered. He acknowledged Learning Bridges does not have the full range of support services as schools, and that it’s working to identify those for sites so the city can serve as many students with disabilities as possible.

The city said it has accepted nearly 40,000 students into its free day care program. A little more than a quarter of them are special education students.

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