Special ed reform should raise red flags

Home Instruction and Hospital Schools chapters meet

Discussing do’s and don’ts

Special ed reform should raise flagsMiller PhotographyUFT Vice President for Special Education Carmen Alvarez (right) and District 75 Representative Analia Gerard (second from right) discuss teacher effectiveness and special education with (from left) Edith Hitchen, Sheila Glover, Tomasina Pena and Sarah Paulding — members of the Home Instruction and Hospital Schools chapters — at a meeting at union headquarters on Sept. 5.

As the Department of Education implements its special education reform citywide this year, educators who work with students with disabilities will be under tremendous pressure from principals to move children into less restrictive environments regardless of their readiness and regardless of whether the school has the programs and supports to help these kids succeed in their new settings.

Don’t go along with bad policies and practices to get along with your principal! Yes, the school system should be providing increased access to and participation in the general education curriculum, and kids with disabilities should be entitled to attend their neighborhood school unless the nature of their disability or needs requires another arrangement. But that doesn’t excuse the system from providing the services and supports that children with disabilities need to thrive.

Carmen AlvarezCarmen Alvarez With so many changes happening, it’s critically important that you know which students in your classes have Individualized Education Programs and carefully read those IEPs. This is especially important if you are teaching kindergarten or students new to your school since those are the students most affected by the reform this year. Many teachers are finding surprises, like students recommended for self-contained classes placed in general ed classes. The law governing special education has not changed. If the rights of special education students in your school are being violated, take prompt action. For help, speak to your UFT chapter leader or district representative.

Most schools can’t offer every service for every grade. The numbers don’t work out. Forcing incoming students to attend their zoned or choice school means that many of them won’t be able to receive the programs and services recommended by their IEP teams. That’s why the DOE is encouraging principals and school teams that do not include the child’s parents to review the IEPs of incoming students and make changes “if they do not meet students’ needs.” Principals will be rated in part on the movement of students to less-restrictive environments. In fact, the only group that can make decisions about a child’s IEP is the child’s IEP team, which includes the parents. If a child’s IEP is changed without parent involvement, I urge you to file a special education complaint as soon as possible.

The DOE says that improving student achievement is the primary goal of this reform. I urge you to take officials at their word and fight for your students’ success. If your students are failing because they are not getting the services on their IEPs, this is another instance where you should file a special education complaint. If your students are not doing well and they are getting the services on their IEPs, check to see if those IEPs were changed in a manner that reduced services just before school started. Don’t wait for the next annual review to take action. Ask for assistance from the special education reform implementation team (every school is supposed to have one). Reconvene the student’s IEP team to take another look. And involve the child’s parents at every step.

Other things to look out for as this reform moves forward:

  • When students are recommended for indirect — teacher to teacher — SETSS, make sure both teachers have regularly scheduled time during their work day to meet.
  • Teachers with dual certification in general education and special education should not be assigned to teach more than two periods outside of their appointed license, especially if they are not tenured.
  • Students with IEPs should not be decertified just because they may be able to benefit from a remedial program or other interventions available in general education.

Urging schools to establish parallel programming — offering general ed, integrated co-teaching and special class options at the same time — is a good way to create more programming flexibility. But that means teachers may be serving in new roles without proper training. If you are a SETSS teacher, you may not feel prepared for the challenge of teaching in an integrated co-teaching or self-contained class for all or part of the day. Or, perhaps the incoming students are presenting behavior issues that you don’t know how to address.

To meet your new professional development needs, we worked all summer with the UFT Teacher Center to put together a series of Special Education Professional Development Institutes here at the UFT. Our first two-day workshop, on Oct. 4 and 5, will focus on creating research-based, successful and positive behavior systems in your school. Other offerings will address co-teaching and Tourette syndrome and associated disorders. To find out more, check out the brochure.

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