Settlement requires NYC schools to limit reliance on EMS services

Photo of the back of an ambulance with gurney
ERs handling school discipline

The New York City Department of Education will take a variety of steps to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits for students with behavioral difficulties, under a settlement approved in federal court December 15.

Legal Services NYC and Cuti Hecker Wang, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Manhattan on behalf of 11 students against the DOE in December 2013, challenging the school system’s practice of routinely sending children to emergency rooms, instead of providing services in school settings mandated by federal law.

In 2011-12 school year alone, NYC schools made 15,130 calls to ambulances, more than a fifth of which were disciplinary infractions. For the past decade, NYC schools have regularly made around 3,000 calls to EMS services for these types of issues.

“This settlement represents a significant first step in addressing a problem that has affected thousands of school children in New York City for well over a decade under the prior administration,” said Nelson Mar, senior staff attorney in the Legal Services NYC-Bronx Education Unit, in a news release. “The Plaintiffs in this action are happy the current administration has moved swiftly to resolve this litigation in a manner that addresses both their individual claims and the need for systemic changes which will benefit all public school students, teachers and staff.”

The settlement requires the DOE to provide Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Schools to 1,500 staff members during the next three years. Through the expanded use of Crisis Intervention Teams, the schools will take steps to improve methods for deescalating behavioral crisis situations.

These protocols must be codified in new regulations to be proposed by the DOE.

To improve data collection on schools’ reliance on the emergency medical system, the DOE must make certain modifications to its Online Occurrence Reporting System.

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, Legal Services NYC brought an administrative action against the DOE and the Fire Department of the City of New York, under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, to obtain citywide data on the practices.

On the FDNY’s end, personnel must review department policies regarding the treatment and transfer of minors.

“This settlement brings critical changes to the way schools work with students in crisis,” NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in the news release. “We’re committed to implementing reforms that create safe and supportive learning environments in every school that improve safety and increase fairness.”

The writer for this story, Andy Jones, worked as a legal intern for Legal Services NYC during the summer of 2012.