The end of the public school year is approaching — but for some children with special needs, there hasn't been a school year.

That includes Dezmin, a four-year-old boy from the Bronx.

“Dezmin, he has a hard time socializing with other people and, you know, making eye contact, but he has a very big, big breakthrough. I've even heard him start to say some words. He loves music and he's a happy little boy,” his mom, Keyona Davis, said.

What You Need To Know

  • For years, the city has had a shortage of special education preschool seats

  • Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks vowed to change that in December 2022

  • However, hundreds of children are still without the seats they need and stuck at home

For the last year, Dezmin has not been in school. That’s because he needed a special education 3-K seat, and the city didn’t have one for him. His mom says that since he aged out of early intervention, he hasn’t been getting other services either.

“He hasn't been around other kids. He was born in 2020 and COVID. So he has very little interaction with anybody since then,” Davis said.

Earlier this spring, the city acknowledged 700 children like Dezmin were waiting for a seat in preschool special education classrooms. It’s a number advocates say has only grown — despite the mayor’s promise that every child who needed one would have a spot by last June.

“There's just no excuse, right? Children with disabilities have legal right to their special education services and programs,” Betty Baez Melo, the director of the early childhood project at Advocates for Children, said.

The education department requested $125 million in the city budget to add preschool special education seats and services for kids who need them. So far, City Hall has only included $25 million.

“My son is not the only person, I mean, the first child that has autism and needs services. So why is this a big problem when you know these things should have been in order years before?,” Davis said.

And with the chance for 3-K having come and gone, she still doesn’t have a placement for pre-K in the fall, despite advocating on his behalf.

“As a parent, you don't want to feel powerless to help your child. And I'm trying not to cry right now, because it shouldn't be this hard of a fight just for education,” she said.

Davis is working with Advocates for Children on her son’s case.

“Unfortunately, we're in a situation now where having an advocate, having a lawyer may not be able to resolve the problem — because there just aren’t enough seats,” Baez Melo said.

City officials have insisted they kept their promise because, at the time of their announcement, 800 seats were needed. They say they created that many, but that demand continued to rise.

“We're doing everything we can to try to meet the demand. We don't want to have any stories of any one family like that," Schools Chancellor David Banks told NY1 Thursday, when asked about Dezmin and the hundreds of children like him.

But data shows the increase in children needing a special class doesn’t fully explain why so many went without a seat last year.

Last school year, there was an increase of 363 children needing special education pre-K seats — but by last June, there were more than 1,100 children waiting for a seat.

The city told NY1 the number of children needing a seat went up again this year, by another 244 students. But they did not provide an updated number for how many children were waiting for a seat as of this month.

Federal law requires the education department to provide a special class seat to every student who needs one, regardless of how high the demand is.

“It's just very sad to see that it's not a bigger urgency put on or a bigger spotlight put on the fact that these — these children have nowhere to go,” Davis said.