by Justin Murphy, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
An unspecified number of New York 3-year-olds with developmental delays and disabilities may lose their state-provided services next week if the state does not extend a key deadline, according to a group of 80 advocacy organizations.
Before turning 3 years old, New York children receive services like speech, physical and occupational therapy through a state program called Early Intervention. After their third birthday, the administration of the same services is transferred to local school districts as part of preschool special education.
The districts conduct an evaluation of the child before her third birthday to determine which services are still necessary. The current problem is that COVID-19 has disrupted districts’ ability to do those evaluations. In the meantime, children are turning 3 and losing their eligibility for services through Early Intervention.
The state extended the deadline earlier this year to June 30, the last day of the school year. That is next Tuesday; without some additional state action by then, children who recently have turned 3 years old will lose their services.
The number of affected children across New York is unknown; the Monroe County Department of Public Health estimates it is about 200 locally.
“Unless the State acts quickly, we are deeply concerned that young children with developmental delays and disabilities across the State will experience a gap in services in violation of their legal rights,” the coalition of 80 organizations wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week. “We need to make sure that the efforts of the EI program and the progress children have made are not undone due to a gap in services.”
They asked Cuomo to extend the deadline once again so that children remain eligible for Early Intervention.
State Department of Health spokeswoman Erin Silk, wrote in an email: “The Department is exploring all options from extending the June 30th deadline to ensuring that school districts are able to conduct the necessary evaluations so these children can transition from the Early Intervention program to their preschool special education programs.”
The Monroe County Department of Public Health said the 200 number was an estimate. “The county has communicated with the individual school districts so they can prioritize these children for enrollment meetings and requested the (state Bureau of Early Intervention) extend the waiver for evaluations through the end of August,” county spokeswoman Julie Philipp wrote in an email.
Fragmented by age level and governmental agency, straddling the boundary between health care and education and subject to complicated regulations, Early Intervention and preschool special education have proven deeply crisis-prone.
A 2018 report by The Children’s Agenda, a Rochester-area agency that is among the signatories to the letter to Cuomo, recommended an overhaul, with the state taking the lead on funding and increasing it as well.
Former Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo was forced to walk back a controversial waiting list for children to get services. Advocates said it would have violated state law.