Letitia James is someone we admire! As the first African American woman to serve as the New York City Public Advocate, Letitia uses her platform to be the voice for those who are marginalized and underrepresented. She received her law degree from Howard University and was previously a member of New York City Council, representing Brooklyn’s 35th Council District.
Presently, Letitia has two ongoing lawsuits with the Department of Education on behalf of students with special needs.
According to the NY Daily News, forty percent of New York city’s disabled students are not getting their full school services including extra tutoring and therapy as required by state law. Out of the city schools 187,000 kids, two-thirds of the special needs students are minorities; African American or Hispanic boys from impoverished neighborhoods.
Letitia has since filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education for its failure to maintain it’s Special Education Student Information System (SESIS). The database, which was created during former mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s tenure is supposed to maintain accurate data about students with disabilities to ensure that they are receiving a quality, individualized classroom experience.
The Public Advocate claims that the city has spent $130 million on SESIS over the last seven years but students with learning disabilities are continuously “not receiving the programs they are entitled to under the law.” Letitia is requesting a judiciary investigation into SESIS spending.
Here are additional statistics from the Department of Education’s data set via Politico:
The majority of [special needs] students — 60 percent — are “fully receiving” their services, 35 percent of students — or more than 60,000 children — are only “partially” receiving their mandated services. And while only 5 percent of the population is not receiving services, that still amounts to 8,588 children without the specialized services they require.
“The failure of this system has been one of the city’s worst-kept secrets,” said Letitia at a press conference. “The program doesn’t work and never has.”
This April, Letitia has a court appearance with the city in regards to a lawsuit filed in 2015 over lack of air conditioning on school buses transporting students with disabilities to school in the summer months. Temperatures had reached over 91 degrees in the buses and several of the non-verbal special needs students have hurt themselves as a result of feeling overheated.
According to The Observer, “the problem is exacerbated, parents say, by the fact that special needs children are prohibited from drinking water on bus rides, which is deemed a choking hazard, or from opening windows.”
In a press conference regarding the lawsuit, Letitia said, “The law is clear that there must be air conditioning when the outside temperature is more than 70 degrees. The DOE [Department of Education] is not only violating the law, they’re violating our moral conscience.”