I am interning for My Speech Matters, a speech therapy private practice for adults and children. I have aspirations to become a speech pathologist and would like to get insight into the working of a private practice and how they cater to NYC students. However, those who might have access to these things are still slighted. According to “NYC’s Special Education Crisis” written by Kevin Mahnken for The 74 Million, 50,000 NYC students were denied “students were denied special education services to which they were legally entitled in the 2016–17 school year.” Mahnken goes on to note that this is ¼ of city children who ultimately did not participate in the programs they were meant to take part in.
IEPs, or Individualized Educational Programs, is a document developed for each U.S. public school child who needs special education. Mahnken continues to give figures on just how many schools have IEPs and implement strategy from initial consultation. They note that 180,000 of NYC’s 1.1 million schools have IEPs. However, 23% of those are partially receiving those services and 4% were not receiving them at all. Though these numbers have grown compared to previous years, they have not grown enough.
At My Speech Matters licensed, speech therapists have extended knowledge in the field and provide speech services to students attending DOE schools and private schools. While this does not completely correct the insufficient care that some may be receiving inside of their schools, it does work to acknowledge the need for a better IEP program overall. Parents are not directly involved in in-school sessions between students and therapists. These sessions may also be group sessions in which students may not be catered to individually.
The questions of why isn’t every student who is in need of the services being evaluated properly through IEPs, and why are some students not getting the services they need are still present. There is also worry about the quality and timeliness of the services that students who are “fully receiving” services recommended through IEP receive. In the 2016-2017 school year “4,500 students had to wait more than 60 days — roughly one-fifth of a 10-month school year — for an IEP meeting after an initial evaluation.” Students who have learning impediments such as ADHD, autism, deafness, and speech related conditions miss out on the services that can be significantly aiding in their learning.
In recent news, amidst the pandemic, schools have naturally curtailed many services as the transition to virtual classroom learning in its initial stages are presented to be arcane and challenging. Special education programs have bared the brunt of these cutbacks. It is important to acknowledge that many students do not have access to technology at home as they would in the classroom. Just how services like occupational therapy and speech therapy will now be provided remotely has been under consideration. According to Alex Zimmerman in “NYC Gives the OK to shrink special education services amid coronavirus upheaval” for Chalkbeat some were concerned as to how meticulous educators will be about special education programs granted they were not obliged to replicate the classroom setting.
Some child sessions with My Speech Matters are essentially, outside-of-the-school sessions for students whose schools do not have in-house speech therapists. Most of the IEPs that these young children come to sessions with are watered down, and do not genuinely reflect the unique needs of the students. We can look towards the overwhelming need for supplemental educational services and underwhelming, unmatched supply. During these times My Speech Matters has been giving teletherapy sessions to all, and while they may not look 100% like in person sessions, they work to continue this need despite the shutting down of schools.
I have been able to sit in on many of these sessions with children who attend public NYC schools and take notes on the session basics, cataloging any questions that I may have. Issues with technology will always be an issue, but the sessions I observe work to further the organization’s implied mission of bringing the appropriate services to those who rightfully need them.
I will continue to observe these sessions which have been supplemented by collecting information on parent groups, and school speech pathologists in the area in hopes of piecing together my introduction into this internship. These are only small steps. The real change will come once the DOE takes IEPs seriously and once the services provided are all encompassing and do not turn away students based on bias or perceived lack of need.