Know your rights

Special education

In addition to the DOE-UFT contract, there are many rules that affect the education of students with disabilities. These rules are found in federal, state and local laws, regulations and policies. They address many issues related to the day-to-day working conditions of special education staff including class and group size, staffing, class composition and the frequency, duration and location of services. Information about these rules can be found on the UFT website.

The UFT assists members in enforcing these rules and ensuring that students receive the supports and services mandated on their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). If you believe your school is violating special education laws and regulations, or if any of the students with disabilities in your school are not receiving the supports and services they are entitled to, please notify the union by filing a confidential special education complaint. Investigations of student-specific complaints can only proceed if the complaint is supported by a staff member who is legally authorized to access the student’s IEP.

Here are some important things to know if you work with students with special needs:

Individualized Education Programs

If you teach or provide related services to students with disabilities, you can access their IEPs in the Special Education Student Information System (SESIS). Any teacher, paraprofessional or related service provider who works with a student must be familiar with their IEP implementation responsibilities.

To be sure your students are receiving the instructional and related services they are entitled to, look at the sections of the IEP titled “Service Recommendations.” If the IEP of one of your students does not match the services the student is receiving, speak to your chapter leader or file a special education complaint.

Some members have reported that their school only offers a specific service, such as integrated co-teaching (ICT), and/or only offers that service in locally determined “core subjects” or for a set number of periods each week. Such “template” programs are impermissible. The IEP team has the right to recommend any program or service necessary to meet the student’s needs, whether or not the program or service is available in your building. Staffing, cost, space and administrative considerations should play no part in IEP team decisions.

With the exception of students who do not participate in the general education environment, at least one special education teacher and one general education teacher of the student must participate in the IEP team meeting for the full duration of the meeting. The IEP team meeting must include both the general and special education teachers in ICT classes.

Integrated co-teaching classes

ICT classes are taught by two teachers, one who is certified and licensed as a special education teacher and one who is certified and licensed as a general education or content-area teacher. ICT classes must always be staffed by two teachers; it is a violation to pull one of the teachers in an ICT class to provide coverage or perform other duties, such as proctoring or scoring exams.

In an ICT class, the number of students with IEPs cannot exceed 40 percent of the total class register, with a maximum of 12 students with disabilities, unless the school has a variance. These limits include any student in the class with a disability, regardless of whether the student’s IEP recommends ICT placement. ICT services can be recommended for any class, including cluster classes, electives and labs, for which the student needs additional support from a special education teacher.

Self-contained classes

With the exception of students in special education classes with staffing ratios of 12:1:4, 8:1 and 6:1, and classes with students over age 16, the age range and achievement levels in ELA and math in self-contained classes should not exceed three years.

Teacher assignments

The UFT has recommended to the Department of Education that the classes of most special education teachers — particularly those in testing grades — be restricted to just one grade and that bridge classes not combine testing grades with nontesting grades (i.e., grades 2 and 3 should not be bridged).

Special education teachers in middle/junior high schools and high schools who are programmed to have an unreasonable number of different courses, each requiring preparation, or have multiple rooms in which they teach, may use the reorganization grievance process in appropriate circumstances to challenge their assignments.

Reorganization grievances have specific contractual time frames, so please bring any concerns to your chapter leader as soon as you receive your program or a change is made to your program.

Paraprofessionals

Paraprofessionals provide support to special education students in the classroom. However, except for lead teacher assistants in certain circumstances, paraprofessionals cannot be assigned to teach a group of students on their own. Paraprofessionals may also provide individual support to a student with a disability in specific areas such as health, behavior or mobility if recommended on the IEP. Paraprofessional training needs must be considered and specified in the “supports for school personnel” section of the IEP.

If a paraprofessional is absent, coverage must be provided.

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