Parents want autism school rules changed

December 9, 2008 3:44:29 PM PST
A group of parents is fighting a battle against New York state. They say the state is spending millions of taxpayer dollars sending autistic students out of state when they should be going to schools in their own districts. Lynn Filosa' 10-year-old daughter, Helen, is autistic. Over the last several years, Helen has made incredible progress. Lynn believes it is because Helen attends a public school in West Islip, just a few miles from home.

"From a social standpoint, it's a very positive thing for children on the spectrum, because socialization is one of the issues that they do have," Filosa said. "My daughter is social with many of the typical children in her school. They all know her."

In fact, Helen spends about six minutes a day on the school bus. But other children with autism aren't as lucky. Filosa has heard the horror stories.

"These children come home, they come home and they're falling asleep on the bus," she said. "Two to three hours of their day is travel time."

Local lawmakers and activists called on the state Department of Education Tuesday to change the way Long Island school districts accept students with autism. They say the state puts a cap on each district, limiting the number of students at each school to 24.

"To be traveling on the bus two to three hours a day to go from Long Island to New York City, in Brooklyn or Queens or Westchester, is unacceptable," State Senator Craig Johnson said.

The cost of busing alone is staggering. It's estimated at $20,000 per student, per year. So for 1,000 students, the total cost to the taxpayer is $20 million a year.

Advocates are urging for the state to lift the cap and calling for an independent investigation.

The state denies the existence of a cap and says they will approve the expansion of programs when there is a need. But some schools say their requests have been rejected for years.

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STORY BY: Long Island reporter Lauren DeFranco

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