Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bus Strike Brings Hardship to Special Ed Kids

Ms. R. has a 9 year old son with Down syndrome. He attends a District 75 school and the travel time to school and back is more than an hour. They have been hit hard by the bus strike which began on January 16th. Because of the lack of transportation, she has kept her son home on some days and has tried using Access-a-Ride on other days.

The school bus strike resulted from a dispute between Mayor Bloomberg and the school bus company owners. Mayor Bloomberg states that school bus transportation costs are way out of control, and is asking for a more competitive bidding process without a job-protection clause that will save the city millions of dollars. The Bloomberg administration wants to request bids for new contracts for 1,100 special-education routes. Bus drivers and matron’s fear that they will lose their jobs if their companies lose their bids and are demanding that the Bloomberg administration guarantee senior drivers will have a job even if the city changes school bus companies. The administration’s position is that they do not have to be legally able to provide employment protection.

It costs about $7,000 per student to transport children every year, but the Department of Education spends about $13,000 a year to bus each special education child annually. The strike has shut down about 5,000 of the city’s 7,700 school bus routes and as a result, more than 110,000 children have had to find new ways to get to their schools. No one has been more profoundly affected than the tens of thousands of special needs children and their parents, who tend to travel the longest distances.

On one recent rainy day, Ms. R. was forced to use public transport when she just missed the Access-a-Ride bus she requested. She started to run after the bus in an attempt to stop it and get her son and herself on the bus. Using public transport places a strong hardship on her because her son occasionally strikes out and hits other passengers. On one occasion, he hit a man who in turn pulled at the young boy’s jacket, which caused a commotion on the bus. The parent is Spanish-speaking and has very little English speaking skills. The school’s parent coordinator does not speak English, but somehow managed to communicate to the parent that she can use a taxi to bring her child to school. The parent however, is unable to use a taxi because she cannot afford the $50 round trip and/or to wait for a reimbursement from the Department of Education.

The Bloomberg administration states that they are offering other options to travel to schools including providing students and parents with Metro cards to use for subway and bus transportation to schools. For parents with cars, the Department of Education will pay them .55 cents per mile for travel to and from school. Some parents said the city has offered to reimburse them up to $200 a day for car services, but many said they did not have the money to lay out.

For more information on how parents can get their children to schools, including reimbursement forms, please visit the NYC Department of Education’s Office Of Pupil Transportation website. In addition, the Department of Education has a website that discusses transportation options for children who have an IEP.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no quick end to the school bus strike and every day that passes without a resolution brings further hardship and misery to all those affected, but particularly to the parents and their children with special needs.                                                                                            (Photo)

Meet our New Director of Development

Sinergia is pleased to announce the addition of Mais Z. Jasser as Director of Development. Ms. Jasser adds to the multicultural staff composition of Sinergia.  She was born in Syria, raised in Lebanon and France and speaks Arabic and French. A recent transplant to New York via California, she has an M. A. in psychology and will be implementing behavioral intervention plans for consumers, as well as providing staff development to the residential habilitation staff. In California Ms. Jasser authored and implemented a clinical behavioral program (R-E-W-A-R-D) for youth designed to address their individual needs, particularly their need to learn positive healthy human behaviors. She has developed and taught classes at the college and university level in the disciplines of psychology, social sciences and humanities. A specialist in cross-cultural mediation, conflict resolution and crisis intervention, she has held the post of professor in psychology for the past twelve years. Her approach to the study of human behavior has focused on human diversity and cross-cultural issues. Ms. Jasser has also held administrative positions and is expert in organizational development. We proudly welcome Mais Z. Jasser to the Sinergia family.

Sonia Sotomayor Book Signing

Two staff members of Sinergia, Myrta Cuadra-Lash and Sandra Ruiz had the pleasure of attending the presentation and book signing of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the CUNY Hostos Community College on February 2, 2013. Reading excerpts from her book, My Beloved World, she spoke about her childhood growing up in a housing project in the Bronx and being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of eight. Her presentation was very touching and engaging. Many in the audience identified with her experiences and laughed and relished her stories, which gave a vivid portrait of life as a Puerto Rican child, her close bonds with her family, especially her “abuelita”, her love of community and transition into womanhood. It was very special to be part of the audience which embraced this unique woman who has become the first Puerto Rican to be appointed to the Supreme Court. The signed book will be placed in Sinergia’s library. Here's a review from the NY Times.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Protect Access to Early Intervention Services

As part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Early Intervention (EI) program provides evaluations and services to infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities and their families. Early Intervention is cost effective and helps infants and toddlers at the time when services can make the biggest difference.

Governor Cuomo’s 2013-2014 Executive Budget proposal would restructure Early Intervention, linking EI services with health insurance coverage. The budget proposal would:
  • Allow a health insurance representative to be part of the team that develops and reviews a child’s Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP), giving the health insurance company a voice in determining a child’s EI services for the first time.
  • Require EI providers to join health insurance networks, negotiate their reimbursement rates with health insurers, and exhaust all appeals of claim denials by health insurers before being paid by EI, likely leading to a further reduction in the number of experienced EI providers available to serve children.
  • Require children to be evaluated and served by evaluators and service providers within the children’s health insurance network, without a clear process for obtaining an exception for children who need specialized service providers. 
For more information contact Randi Levine at

Schools' Have an Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Athletics

Sinergia consumer enjoys playing baseball during our summer picnic
Students with disabilities have the right, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, to an equal opportunity to participate in their schools' extracurricular activities. But a 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that many students with disabilities are not afforded an equal opportunity to participate in athletics, and therefore may not have equitable access to the health and social benefits of athletic participation.

The U S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights issued a guidance letter clarifying school districts' existing legal obligations to provide equal access to extracurricular athletic activities to students with disabilities.

The guidance letter provides examples of the types of reasonable modifications that schools may be required to make to existing policies, practices, or procedures for students with intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other type of disability. Examples of such modifications include:
  • The allowance of a visual cue alongside a starter pistol to allow a student with a hearing impairment who is fast enough to qualify for the track team the opportunity to compete.
  • The waiver of a rule requiring the "two-hand touch" finish in swim events so that a one-armed swimmer with the requisite ability can participate at swim meets.
"Participation in extracurricular athletics can be a critical part of a student's overall educational experience, said Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). "Schools must ensure equal access to that rewarding experience for students with disabilities." To learn more about OCR click here.

Additional reading:

Press Release: U.S. Department of Education Clarifies Schools' Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Extracurricular Athletics

Blog: We Must Provide Equal Opportunity in Sports to Students with Disabilities Posted on January 25, 2013 by Arne Duncan 

Sexual Health Workshops

Our friends at Harlem RBI will be presenting a series of workshops on sexual health at Sinergia through their program called “The BASE.” Participants who attend all seven workshops will be awarded with a certificate upon completion at a luncheon celebrating their accomplishment. Each workshop will take place in the afternoon, 1pm to 3pm.

1) Tuesday 02/19/13 - Understanding HIV &AIDS

2) Friday 02/22/13 - Making Sexual Decisions & Understanding Your Values

3) Tuesday 02/26/13 -Developing & Using Condom Skills

4) Friday 03/01/13 - Learning Assertive Communication Skills

5) Tuesday 03/04/13 - Practicing Assertive Communication Skills

6) Friday 03/07/13 - Personalizing the Risk

7) Tuesday 03/12/13 - Spreading the Word

For information contact DayHab Specialist Erin McSorley at 212-643-2840 ext. 343