Special Classes

A special class is a class consisting of students with disabilities who have been grouped together because of similar individual needs so that they can receive specially designed instruction. In special classes, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction is adapted to ensure the student has access to the general curriculum and the opportunity to meet the educational standards that apply to all students. Special Class Services serve students with disabilities whose needs cannot be met within a general education class, even with the use of supplementary aids and services. Supplementary aids and services are aids, services and other supports that are provided in the general education classroom so that a student with a disability can be educated with his or her peers to the maximum extent appropriate.  Some examples include a notetaker, instructional materials in other formats (e.g., Braille or large print), special seating arrangements, books on tape, highlighted work, study guide outlines of key concepts, paraprofessional support, a behavior management plan. 

Prior to the special education reform, placement in a special class was usually an all-or-nothing proposition.   Under the reform, schools are encouraged to program students on an individual subject basis according to their strengths, needs, preferences and interests and maximize time spent with their non-disabled peers.  Schools, in turn, have been encouraged to improve fluidity between general and special education programs by creating parallel schedules where general education and special education teachers provide instruction in the same content area during the same periods.

Special class and other special education supports are not restricted to ”core” subjects.  (For funding purposes, the Department considers ELA, math, social studies and science as “core” subjects.) Rather, the services a student needs to participate in the general education curriculum and achieve IEP goals must be individually determined on the basis of each student’s ability and needs for each subject or area of instruction.  This includes cluster subjects, specials and other “non-core” courses.

While many special education teachers are no longer have full-time special class programs, it is important to remember that the reform did not change teachers’ rights with respect to program preference.  Special education teachers at all levels have the right to express a preference for program designation (ICT, self-contained, SETSS, etc.) and age range.

The special education teacher is responsible for designing and delivering instruction in special classes. Paraprofessionals may also help provide support in the classroom. Students receiving special class services may also require additional supports including, but not limited to, related services, adapted physical education, assistive technology and travel training.

Learn more about...

Factors Considered in Recommending Special Class Services

Special Class Curriculum

Functional Grouping

Age Range

Maximum Sizes and Staffing Ratios

Special Class Support Services Part Time

Mainstreaming

Staffing

Variances

Space

Other Resources


Factors Considered in Recommending Special Class Services

Before determining that a student requires special class services, the IEP team must consider

  • the benefits of serving the student in the general education classroom,
  • whether the student can achieve his/her IEP goals in the general education classroom and
  • the effect that the student will have on the general education environment, including the education of other students.

The IEP team must document why the general education classroom with supplementary aids and services would not meet the student's needs. These considerations must include the impact the student with a disability will have on the teacher’s time, whether the potential for disruption will have a significant impact on the education of the student or other students and the degree to which curriculum must be modified.

The IEP team should answer a number of questions prior to recommending special class services:

  • Has the full range of supplementary aids and services, including special education teacher support, to accommodate the student in the general education classroom been considered?

If so, then:

  • Does the student require so much of a teacher's time that the teacher cannot give adequate attention to the needs of other students in the classroom? And/or
  • Is the student so disruptive in the general education classroom that the education of the student or other students is significantly impaired? And/or
  • Does the student require the curriculum to be modified so significantly that it bears little relation to the instruction in the classroom?

If the answers to any of the above questions are yes, the general education classroom may not be an appropriate setting and special class services may be considered. The IEP team must also consider, what if anything, about a special class would enable the student to progress and meet his or her individual learning goals.


Curriculum

Students in special classes participate in the general education curriculum, with accommodations and supports, unless otherwise specified on their IEPs. This allows students in special classes to have access to, and make progress in, the general education curriculum. For students with disabilities in grades pre-K through 12, this includes instruction in English Language Arts and Math based on the Common Core State Standards. When appropriate, it also affords them opportunities to be served in a less restrictive setting/or be decertified. Special class teachers should receive support in teaching the general education curriculum and should be included in professional development on the common core state standards.

Support for students in special classes may include

  • modifying curricular content,
  • identifying and selecting instructional materials, and
  • developing assessment materials.

Students in special classes are entitled to participate in all the school's programs.


Functional Grouping

Students with disabilities are grouped for special class services based upon similarity of educational needs. These needs include, but are not limited to,

  • levels of academic or educational achievement,
  • learning characteristics and styles,
  • social development,
  • physical development,
  • and the management needs of the students in the classroom.  

Classes may be composed of students with the same disability or with different disabilities but with similar educational/functional needs.

When grouping students for special classes by similarity of needs, the levels of knowledge and development in subject and skill areas (e.g., activities of daily living, level of intellectual functioning, adaptive behavior, expected rate of progress in acquiring skills and information, and learning style) must be considered. The range of academic or educational achievement must be limited to assure that instruction provides each student appropriate opportunities to achieve his or her annual goals. The learning characteristics of students in the class must be sufficiently similar to assure that no students fall behind in academic achievement because their instructional needs are not being addressed.

The achievement levels in reading and math should not exceed 3 years, except for special classes organized at 8:1:1, 6:1:1 and 12:1:4. If a school operates a class in which reading and math achievement levels exceed 3 years, the school must notify the Office of Student Enrollment and the parents of students in the class. This notice, which must be given no later than Nov. 1 each year, must provide the range of reading and math achievement levels and the general levels of social development, physical development and management needs in the class. The notice must also inform the parent of each student in the class that, upon request, they will be afforded an opportunity to discuss the description with an appropriate school representative. The parents (and teachers if not previously informed) of any new students entering that class after Nov. 1 must be provided a description of the class by the Office of Student Enrollment as detailed above.


Age Range

With the exception of students in special classes with a staffing ratio of 12:1:4, the chronological age range within special classes comprised of students who are less than 16 years of age must not exceed 36 months. The chronological age range within special classes comprised of students who are 16 years of age and older and students in 12:1:4 classes is not limited. Upon application and documented educational justification to the State Education Department, approval may be granted to exceed the chronological age range. The age range may not be exceeded unless and until the State Education Department grants the variance. For more information, see the Variances section below.


Special Class Maximum Sizes and Staffing Ratios

Special classes offer different levels of staffing intensity depending upon the intensity of a student's academic and/or management needs. Special class maximum sizes may range from six to 15. Staffing for classes will be one teacher and up to four paraprofessionals. Students recommended for a more intensive student to staff ratio require more intensive and constant adult supervision to engage in learning. When a student is recommended for special class services, the IEP must state the number of students who will be in the class and the specific ratio of special education teachers and paraprofessionals.

Special Class Staffing Ratio 12:1 (elementary and junior/middle levels in NYC only) and 15:1 (high school)

  • no more than 12 or 15 students per class depending on level
  • one full-time special education teacher

Serves students whose academic and/or behavioral needs require specialized/specially designed instruction which can best be accomplished in a self-contained setting.

Special Class Staffing Ratio 12:1:1

  • no more than 12 students per class
  • one full-time special education teacher
  • one full-time paraprofessional

Serves students whose academic and/or behavioral management needs interfere with the instructional process, to the extent that additional adult support is needed to engage in learning and who require specialized/specially designed instruction which can best be accomplished in a self-contained setting.

Special Class Staffing Ratio 8:1:1

  • no more than eight students per class
  • one full-time special education teacher
  • one full-time paraprofessional

Serves students whose management needs are severe and chronic requiring intensive constant supervision, a significant degree of individualized attention, intervention and intensive behavior management as well as additional adult support.

Special Class Staffing Ratio 6:1:1

  • no more than six students per class
  • one full-time special education teacher
  • one full-time paraprofessional

Serves students with very high needs in most or all need areas, including academic, social and/or interpersonal development, physical development and management. Student's behavior is characterized as aggressive, self-abusive or extremely withdrawn and with severe difficulties in the acquisition and generalization of language and social skill development. These students require very intense individual programming, continual adult supervision, (usually) a specific behavior management program, to engage in all tasks and a program of speech/language therapy (which may include augmentative/alternative communication).

Special Class Staffing Ratio 12:1:4

  • no more than 12 students per class
  • one full-time special education teacher
  • one additional staff person (paraprofessional) for every three students

Serves students with severe and multiple disabilities with limited language, academic and independent functioning. These students require a program primarily of habilitation and treatment, including training in daily living skills and the development of communication skills, sensory stimulation and therapeutic interventions.

Upon application and documented educational justification to the State Education Department, approval may be granted to exceed the special class sizes. The class size may not be exceeded unless and until the State Education Department grants the variance.


Special Class Support Services Part-Time

Special Class Support Services Part-Time provides students in community school districts and high schools with instruction in a special class setting for up to 50 percent of the day, with the remainder of the day spent in general education classes. Any special class provided in community school districts and high schools, regardless of staffing ratio, can be provided on a part-time basis.

For Special Class Support Services Part-Time, the special education teacher provides direct/specialized instructional services in a special class setting for up to 50 percent of the instructional day. Students can also receive supplementary aids and services, including special education teacher support services, or integrated co-teaching (CTT) services for the periods they are not in a special class.

Each student's IEP must indicate the number of periods that special class services will be provided and the instructional areas in which the student will receive special class servicesas well as the supplementary aids and services, if any, the student will require when participating in general education classes.

Under the reform many special education teachers are no longer have full-time special class programs.  It is important to remember that the reform did not change teachers’ rights with respect to program preference.  Special education teachers at all levels have the right to express a preference for program designation (ICT, self-contained, SETSS, etc.) and age range.


Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming is the placement of a special class student with a disability in the general education classroom with age-appropriate peers for those areas of instruction in which the student's academic and behavioral performance is within the range of his or her non-disabled peers and is not impacted by his or her disability.

  • Appropriate mainstream placement does not and should not require any additional supports.
    • Individually assigned supports available to the student in the special class (e.g. assistive technology, school health services), however, are to be available to the student during mainstreamed classes.
  • Students with disabilities should be able to participate with non-disabled students in non-academic and extracurricular activities, unless their IEP indicates otherwise.
    • Non-academic and extracurricular activities include lunch, assembly, trips, recess periods, athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, school-sponsored special interest groups or clubs, referrals to agencies that provide assistance to individuals with disabilities and employment of students.
    • For students recommended to receive paraprofessional services for health or behavior management needs, the IEP should indicate whether the paraprofessional service is required during non-academic/extracurricular school activities.

Staffing

A certified special education teacher must be assigned to provide specially designed instruction to a special class. In addition, special education teachers who teach special (self-contained) classes must be highly qualified in the subjects they teach.

Special education teachers who teach special classes in common branch subjects in Grades K-6 or in classes composed exclusively of students, regardless of age, who are eligible for the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA) are considered highly qualified for their assignments if they are certified in special education and have passed the LAST or the NYC Board of Examiners test.

Special education teachers who teach special (self-contained) classes in Grades 7-12 must be certified/licensed in special education and highly qualified in each core academic subject that they teach. Core academic subjects are English, reading, language arts; mathematics; sciences; social studies (history, geography, economics, civics and government); foreign languages; and the arts (art, dance, music, theater including public speaking, and drama).

Teachers certified in special education who teach one or more core academic subjects to a special (self-contained) class for students with disabilities in grades 7 – 12 or the age equivalent (or teach a special subject such as languages other than English, the arts or reading/literacy in a special class in Grades K-12) can demonstrate that they are highly qualified in each core academic subjects they teach by:

  • Holding a NYS teaching certificate in the core academic subject; OR
  • Having an undergraduate major or graduate degree or equivalents in the core academic subject; OR
  • Passing a Content Specialty Test (CST) in the subject or a NYC Board of Examiners test in the subject; OR
  • If beyond the first year of certification or teaching, using the HOUSSE (High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation) in the core academic subject; OR
  • If in the first year of certification or teaching AND if teaching multiple core academic subjects AND if highly qualified in math, science or language arts, using any of the above methods to demonstrate subject matter competency in the core academic subject within two years from the date of employment.

HOUSSE is an evaluation that enables teachers to demonstrate that they have subject matter competency in each core academic subject they teach using education, credentials, teaching experience and professional development. For more information, see HOUSSE online.

HOUSSE cannot be used by certified general education teachers (elementary, middle school generalist, content area) to teach special education students in a special (self-contained) class.

HOUSSE cannot be used by special education teachers to teach a general education class.

It is not permissible to assign special education teachers to teach a general education class on an incidental basis because incidental teaching is permitted for a “subject” that is outside of the teacher’s certification area, but not for different student populations. In the same way, teachers certified in general education cannot teach special classes on an incidental basis because IDEA requires teachers of special classes to be certified in special education. Incidental teaching doesn’t override that requirement.


Variances

State regulations delineate specific criteria for operation of special classes. The maximum class size for special classes and maximum chronological age ranges within these classes are specified in these regulations. The regulations allow some flexibility in permitting a variance from each of these requirements, on a case-by-case basis, based on appropriate educational justification.

A request for a variance from special class size and chronological age range requirements must be submitted to the State Education Department for consideration on an individual student basis before the student is placed into the proposed program. This is done by completing the Variance Request Form, signed by the Office of Student Enrollment Director of Special Education and mailed directly to the State Education Department at 55 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217. Such a request requires documented evidence that the student would be placed in a group or class where other students have comparable functioning in academic, social, physical and management needs areas. The request and supporting justification for class size and/or age range variances will be reviewed by the SED. Since a student may not enter a proposed special class until the variance request is approved, the request is treated as a priority. The SED completes the review within a two-week period.

Approved variances are in effect only for the school year (or remainder thereof) in which the variance is granted. Schools are expected to remedy the need for a variance by the commencement of the following school year.

Please Note: Special Classes may be increased by no more than one student.


Space

  • According to the New York City Building Code and longstanding NYC DOE policy, classrooms should provide a minimum of 20 square feet per student, exclusive of permanent wall cabinets, heat sources or other architectural features. This standard applies to all categories of students except students with physical disabilities, limited mobility and students in kindergarten programs.
  • Students who use wheelchairs, walkers, braces or crutches or other adaptive devices or specialized furniture, i.e., Rifton chairs, standing tables, etc., should have 35 square feet per student.
  • Kindergarten classes, including special classes for students with disabilities, should adhere to a standard of 35 square feet per student to accommodate early childhood developmental activity centers, i.e., water tables, sand tables and mini-kitchens for activities of daily living.

Classrooms should have a door leading directly into the corridor. They should also have a window or other mechanical means for fresh air supply.

Concerns about adherence to space requirements in special classes are investigated and addressed on a case-by-case basis in cooperation with the UFT Health and Safety representatives.


Resources

State Regulations

UFT Teacher Contract Provisions


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