To determine whether the New York City (NYC) Department of Education (DOE) is providing a safe and healthy environment that is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant for students attending District 75 schools. The audit covered the period July 1, 2018 through October 26, 2020.
About the Program
The DOE, the nation’s largest public school system, serves 1.1 million students at its more than 1,800 elementary, middle, and high schools, including 202,000 students who receive special education services. Students with greater special education needs and challenges, such as autism spectrum disorders, significant cognitive delays, and emotional disturbances, receive services through DOE’s District 75 – a special citywide school district that provides highly specialized instructional support in a wide variety of settings and locations. In school year 2019-20, approximately 26,000 special education students were enrolled in District 75 facilities/schools.
District 75’s network of facilities includes 59 main sites/schools, each with one or more affiliated satellite schools. Students in District 75 main sites and satellite schools receive their services in individual school buildings or in special classes co-located with another school – either a DOE general education school or a charter school. In addition, some District 75 students receive their services in hospitals and at home.
The DOE is responsible for ensuring that District 75 schools comply with applicable health, safety, and accessibility requirements. A number of federal, State, and local laws, such as provisions of the ADA, New York State Education Law, Regulations of the Commissioner of the New York State Education Department, Regulations of the Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, and the NYC Health Code govern these requirements.
Several DOE divisions, including the District 75 Superintendent’s Office and the Division of School Facilities (DSF), play a role in monitoring District 75 schools and ensuring their compliance with these requirements. In addition, the NYC School Construction Authority manages DOE’s capital program and collaborates on improvement projects with DSF.
We observed building conditions for a judgmental sample of 29 District 75 schools located throughout the five boroughs of NYC – 15 main sites/schools and 14 satellite schools – and determined that the DOE could improve its oversight to ensure that children attending some District 75 schools are not exposed to unsafe and unhealthy conditions and to conditions that are not ADA compliant. Conditions we identified included:
- Peeling paint in certain areas, including classrooms.
- Lack of the required supply of epinephrine pens (EpiPens) to be used in case of allergic reaction emergencies.
- Disabled door alarms, which could result in students leaving school buildings undetected.
- Unsafe conditions on playgrounds, including cracks in pavement, protruding nails or screws in playground mats, uneven surfaces, and broken playground equipment. Additionally, for one school, the playground is part of a public park, which is not locked when school is in session, leaving students vulnerable to being approached or harmed by the public.
- Potentially toxic cleaning materials in unlocked cabinets in classrooms and hallways, and, in one instance, in an unlocked storage room in close proximity to the student cafeteria.
- Accessibility issues, such as difficult-to-open exterior doors and a hallway lined with wheelchairs.
- District 75 schools and students lacking full or similar access to equipment, programs, and areas as general education students in co-located buildings.
- Improve oversight of District 75 schools’ compliance with applicable health and safety laws and regulations.
- Coordinate with DSF and the NYC School Construction Authority to maintain a clean and safe environment in District 75 schools.
- Ensure that District 75 school buildings are ADA compliant and accessible.
- Work with District 75 schools and students co-located in DOE general education school buildings to ensure they have full access to all programs, facilities, and equipment available at the co-located general education schools.
- Ensure that an adequate supply of EpiPens are available at District 75 schools.
State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director:Kenrick Sifontes
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236