Parents of children with disabilities are suing the city Department of Education, which they say has denied their children an education by failing to provide the support services they need.
The lawsuit, obtained exclusively by the NBC 4 New York, charges that systematic bungling and a shortage of nurses is causing kids with disabilities to miss months, even years, of school.
Vicky Lopez's 9-year-old son Jayden suffers from constant seizures and uses a wheelchair and a feeding tube. His doctors and his individualized education policy both say he needs a nurse to be with him in school full-time to keep him safe and administer his medication.
But Lopez says he was never got a nurse and was unable to start first grade. She says he had to stay home as she battled with the DOE and ended up missing two years of school.
“It set him back a lot in terms of him not learning his colors on time, or the ABCs, or being able to socialize,” Lopez said.
Lopez finally won her case at a two-day trial earlier this year, and Jayden started school in September with a full-time nurse. Lopez says he’s thriving and was even named student of the month.
“He’s always raising his hands, you know, he’s shouting out the answers. He’s progressing a lot,” Lopez said.
Lopez sought help from Advocates for Children as she fought to get Jayden in school. Daniel Hochbaum, an attorney for the group, says they're currently handling about 18 similar cases.
Advocates for Children is now suing the DOE in federal court for allegedly violating the rights of three other children with disabilities, claiming they failed to provide nurses or the transportation to which the children were entitled. (Lopez isn't among the plaintiffs suing the DOE in federal court.)
“The law is very clear about this. It’s the DOE’s responsibility to provide nurses to any student who needs a nurse in order to be in school,” Hochbaum said.
According to the written decision in Jayden’s case, the DOE conceded that it failed to provide a free and public education to Jayden, but it also blamed paperwork errors by Lopez.
In a statement to NBC 4, the New York City Law Department, which handles the city’s legal affairs, said the issues identified in the lawsuit have been addressed by the DOE.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers disagree. They say that while the city finally provided some of the nurses to the children after they were sued, there is still a systematic management problem and shortage of nurses.
In a statement, DOE spokesperson Toya Holness said the DOE is “committed to meeting the individual needs outlined in each student’s IEP, including providing necessary nursing and transportation services, to ensure all students receive a high-quality education.”
“We work closely with families and nursing agencies to ensure concerns are swiftly addressed,” Holness said.