Last month the City’s Department of Education found that 40% of the its over 100,000 special needs students are not getting services that are required by state law. And now… a lawsuit filed by Public Advocate Letitia James argues that part of the blame lies with SESIS, the DOE’s 130 million dollar data system. Gilda Di Carli reports.
DI CARLI: Megan Moskop is a Special Ed teacher at MS 324 in Washington Heights. She has a caseload of 17 students, each with an individualized education plan. An IEP. That plan is supposed to spell out exactly how the school is going to meet the student’s educational needs.
And here’s the issue: too much teaching time is spent on record keeping. That’s where the city’s troubled special ed data program comes in. It’s called SESIS.
MOSKOP: BLAHH SESIS! Everytime I hear that word I get palpitations and shivers down my spine!
DI CARLI : That’s how many Special Ed teachers feel, according to Moskop. And here’s why. It just doesn’t work.
MOSKOP: I clicked on the service, error. I clicked on the subject, error. I clicked on the frequency of service, error. I clicked on the location, error. I clicked save and continue, and another error.
DI CARLI: If you’ve ever wanted to toss your computer out the window because nothing seemed to work.. Well, that’s SESIS for you.
It’s not supposed to be that way. SESIS was designed to track the progress of students with special needs. Progress that the DOE is required by law to monitor. It’s failing, which is why Public Advocate Letitia James has sued the city. The goal of the suit is to compel the DOE to disclose how it intends to fix the problem. And —
JAMES: The failure of the system has been one of the Department’s worst kept secrets.
DI CARLI: Teachers say the educations of tens of thousands of New York City public school kids are being shortchanged.
Special education technology is Jonathan Izak’s domain. He founded a data program called Oneder, which has had a lot of success being implemented in school districts in Texas. Izak is now hoping to expand Oneder from his new office in Newark. As he looks across the river at New York, he says there’s just no excuse.
IZAK: It’s certainly true New York City is a large and complicated school system,
What you’ll find is that the challenges they are facing in regards to IEP data-tracking data-systems are not necessarily unique to New York.
DI CARLI: And what’s worse, The City may actually be losing money it could have gotten from the federal government, through its Medicaid reimbursements program — The health care program that pays the state back for services it provides to the disabled. The city’s Independent Budget Office released a report on the SESIS problem two weeks ago. The report’s author, Yolanda Smith, says the issue is simple:
SMITH 1: If you can’t track and monitor what children are getting services and what types of services they’re getting, you also can’t go back and say hey we’d like to get reimbursed for paying for those services. We’re talking about millions of dollars that have to come from somewhere.
DI CARLI: Millions of dollars that have to come out the City’s own pocket. So I asked Yolanda Smith, of the Independent Budget Office, do we need to replace SESIS?
SMITH: Haha. On the one hand, we’ve really put in a lot of money. It’s been at least 130 million dollars. So that’s a lot of money to just walk away from. The question might be how much more money to we have to put in to make it work.
DI CARLI: And that’s precisely the question that Public Advocate Letitia James’ lawsuit hopes to answer. Her office declined to comment, but oral arguments are scheduled to begin sometime next month.
Gilda Di Carli, Columbia Radio News.