You can make a difference

Pat Arnow

UFT Vice President Carmen Alvarez (back left) and Staten Island Borough Representative Emil Pietromonaco (standing), the co-chairs of the union’s School Governance Committee, lead a meeting of the group on Dec. 19 at union headquarters. The committee must make recommendations for ways to reform mayoral control and school governance before the race for the city’s next mayor picks up in the spring.

The SESIS arbitration decision and award is a great victory and a much-needed boost in a very difficult year. But while the union took the grievance to arbitration, it was you, the members, who made it a success.

You came to me and your chapter leaders with detailed information about your experiences. You shared documents and directives. Many of you responded to multiple surveys. Representatives from the affected chapters came forward and testified at the arbitration hearing.

Savor your victory. You deserve it.

But, as sweet as it is, we all know that SESIS problems are only one piece of the much larger mess in special education. This year, special education reform is our greatest — and gravest — concern. The groundwork for this year’s woes was laid last year when the Department of Education told principals that no learning was taking place in special (self-contained) classes and that integrating students with disabilities into mainstream classes would, by itself, lead to improved achievement. (Message received by principals: Eliminate all self-contained classes.)

This was followed up by a blueprint called the “Flexible Programming Guide” that instructed principals on how to mix and match services and change full-time services to part-time. (Message received: Reduce services for students with disabilities at every level.)

Most recently, the Department of Education issued a budget document that realigns special education funding to adhere to the above principles by doubling the amount of revenue that schools receive for part-time (21–59 percent of the school day) services and reducing funding for integrated co-teaching in K–12 classes and self-contained K–8 class services. (Message received: Program students for part-time services to get the most bang for your bucks.)

An email from the DOE that was brought to my attention prior to the break acknowledged that many students are not receiving the services on their Individualized Education Programs. This email instructed special education assistant principals and coordinators in one network to change students’ IEPs when the services on the IEP did not match what was on the student’s program as captured on the USPE screen in ATS.

Schools should be providing students with the services on their IEPs, not changing IEPs to match what the school is actually providing. In response to pressure from us, the DOE in the Dec. 19 Principals’ Weekly published an item that said that “data on the USPE screen should accurately reflect a student’s IEP program recommendations and IEP teams should not change a student’s IEP recommendations to fit program schedules.”

Are these things occurring in your school? Do the IEPs of your students reflect the services they are actually receiving? Were you pressured to ignore your students’ needs and amend their IEPs to match new programs being promoted as part of the reform? Worse yet, did an administrator or another staff member change your students’ IEPs without consulting you?

If so, you have a new opportunity to make a difference. First, make sure your students are getting all of the services that are reflected on their last finalized IEP. Second, don’t make changes in your students’ IEPs unless they are truly based on your students’ individual needs. Third, if your students are not making adequate progress, reconvene the IEP team and, together with the child’s parents and other service providers, develop a new plan.

If you feel that your school is running roughshod over the rights of its special education students or hasn’t hired adequate staff to provide the services on students’ IEPs, contact my office or file a special education complaint at www.uft.org/special-ed-complaint-form. If you hold the DOE’s feet to the fire on special ed reform with the same enthusiasm that helped us win the SESIS arbitration, you may be able to salvage the year for your struggling students.

I am also interested in hearing about places where the special education reform is being implemented in a fashion that is helping students with disabilities. I am eager to acknowledge and replicate successful practices, too. If your school fits the bill, please send me an email at calvarez@uft.org.

User login
Enter the email address you used to sign up at UFT.org.
If you don't have a UFT.org profile, please sign up.
Forgot your password?