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DOE must give special ed more attention

New York Teacher
MaryJo Ginese

MaryJo Ginese
VP for Special Education

The 2021–22 school opening has been stressful and complicated. Staffing shortages have put a strain on many of our schools, particularly in District 75. Health and safety guidelines keep evolving, and we then must adapt to the new safety protocols, making it hard to develop a sense of normalcy and routine. The pandemic has changed how we relate to each other and interact with our students. Through it all, your care, concern and guidance have had a powerful influence on your students.

As I visit schools and speak to UFT members who teach and support students with disabilities, I see how you continue to do your jobs despite partial or full class closures and how you navigate between in-person and remote lessons when the need arises. Each day, I encounter courageous educators who are meeting these unexpected and difficult situations with strength and dignity.

We have seen how so many of our students with disabilities have lost ground since the pandemic hit. This fall, we have been confronted with the rocky rollout of the DOE’s Special Education Recovery Services (SERS) program that was supposed to provide targeted help to these students. Many of you complained about a serious lack of information from your school’s administration about the recovery plan and how centrally determined priority groupings and the numeracy and literacy screenings were to be used to determine student need for these extra supports. Some administrators did not post instructional and related services positions related to SERS. SERS funding was slow to arrive at schools, and many administrators ignored the agreement between the DOE and the UFT that requires case managers to receive per session pay for creating the recovery notices in SESIS. Understandably, you are exhausted and frustrated.

If you have any questions or concerns related to Special Education Recovery Services, please email me.

If ever there was a time to give special education more attention, it is now. The DOE needs to offer greater incentives to spur more teachers to pursue certification in special education. Meanwhile, the new and emerging needs of students with disabilities call for better training for our paraprofessionals.

Providing the best educational plan and environment for students with disabilities is the solid foundation on which we build an inclusive community. While the union is working to expedite the resolutions for special education complaints that members have filed, this complaint process is not your only vehicle for addressing issues. I urge you to raise your concerns with your chapter leader and your district representative.

The Students with Disabilities section is a wealth of information for educators. In the Special Education Guidance for the 2021–22 school year, you’ll find all the important DOE documents. We know the amount of COVID-related special education information can be overwhelming, so we have done everything we can to make it easy to find the information you need.

Please reach out to me if you would like me to visit your classroom. I welcome the opportunity to see firsthand what our members are doing to support our students with disabilities.

As you weather this difficult year, remember that you are making a great difference in your students’ lives. You are an anchor in a sea full of rough waters. I want to thank you and let you know how much I appreciate you.