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COPA calls out New York State Legislators

July 5, 2018

Community, Disability Rights, In The Media

HeartShare’s Education leadership and about 25 colleagues, including HeartShare pre-school teachers, therapists and social workers, joined the COPA #OurKidsAreYourKids Rally at CUNY Graduate Center on Monday, June 25, 2018. (left to right) HeartShare Executive Director of Developmental Disabilities Linda Tempel, and Sr. Vice President of Education Services Carol Verdi, with Directors Dianne Cattrano, Debbie Pafundi, Martha Kuszek and Kathy Toal.

Hundreds of teachers, faculty, and supporters of the Coalition of Provider’s Association (COPA) gathered for a rally focusing on special education programs in New York City on Monday, June 25th. The Coalition of Provider’s Association consists of five associations that provide support and services to people with disabilities.

The rally carried the slogan, “Our Kids are Your Kids,” which was echoed back and forth between speakers and the audience. The slogan is a call to New York State legislators. Supporters, including educators from HeartShare, gathered to bring attention to the current crisis involved with the 4410 and 853 special education schools in NYC. The issues addressed include teacher retention and turnover rates, and a decrease in state funding as the number of students requiring special education is on the rise. Arnold Diaz from PIX 11 news has reported on the crisis.

Courtney Case is the mother of a child enrolled at the Brooklyn Autism Center. She toured 37 different schools until she found one that would finally accept her boy. At first, her child was making rapid progress. “He was really improving. He could actually call me ‘Mommy’ for the first time,” Courtney said.

One day, Courtney’s son was assigned a new teacher because his former teacher had accepted a higher-paying job teaching at a NYC public school. Over time, this had become a trend. Courtney’s son had been through 8 different teachers in 13 months. “I was noticing avoidance behaviors. He would act out, and he never had one teacher that he could trust. These kids need that commitment to grow,” said Courtney.

Many special education teachers, once they’ve acquired enough experience, go on to teach in public schools that offer a higher salary. This makes it difficult for a special education student to make steady progress as they have to keep on adapting to a new teacher.

“They leave because they have to. We’re underpaid,” said Barbara Grunenburg, a representative of the Developmental Disabilities Institute (DDI) in NYC. “I’ve watched teachers and assistants come and go. We’re constantly having to train a new staff member,” she said.

Emily McGibbons, another DDI representative, also spoke at the rally. “This is not an easy job. The training is intensive… I’ve experienced two injuries on the job… I shouldn’t be able to make more as a fast food worker than I do as a teacher,” she said. The crowd roared in agreement.

After going over the current crises involved with the 4410 and 853 schools in NYC, Seth Stein presented possible solutions. Seth Stein is a lawyer at the Moritt Hock & Hamroff law firm. He drew reference to Article 11, Section 1 of the New York State Constitution, which states, “The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.” He pointed out that the Constitution requires that the State serve “all children.”  New York State funds public schools and private non-profit schools–like HeartShare’s–differently, which can produce an up to $20-30K salary disparity in teacher and staff salaries despite having the same level of education, teaching certifications and other credentials. “With your help, we can take this all the way to Albany,” he said. Again, the audience approved.

The rally closed with chants from Matthew Sturiale, CEO of Birch Family Services His speech was directed towards New York State legislators, “Kids are being left behind… Discrimination must end… Enough is enough Albany! Our kids are your kids!”