The process for determining a student’s eligibility for special education begins with a referral. Parents and certain other people, such as the principal or the chairperson of the Committee on Special Education, can initiate this process if they suspect that a student has a disability. Professional members of the school staff, including teachers, can make a “request for a referral” for an initial evaluation to the principal or chairperson.
All students suspected of having a disability should be identified, located and evaluated. This year, all students are likely to have experienced learning loss due to the pandemic, some much more than others. This learning loss is not generally indicative of a disability. Referral for special education evaluation should not be the first response to pandemic-related learning loss or readjustment issues. Consideration should first be given to strengthening core instruction and other strategies such as class-based and individual interventions and supports targeted to areas of student need.
This year, every school will have an Academic Intervention Services team whose job it is to identify students in need of additional support and match students with intervention programs and services targeted to their needs. Students with disabilities must be provided the opportunity to participate in these services on an equal basis and using the same criteria as their nondisabled peers. Eligibility is not affected by the student’s receipt of special education services or the availability of after-school or Saturday Special Education Recovery Services.
Individualized Education Programs
If you teach or provide related services to students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), 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 section of the IEP titled “Recommended Special Education Programs and Services” and check with their related service provider(s). 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.
The student’s 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. According to the Standard Operating Procedures Manual, schools must serve students in accordance with their IEP recommendations “whenever possible.”
There are occasions when a new student arrives at the school with a program recommendation that the school cannot provide. For example, a small high school may have only two new 9th-graders with IEP recommendations for a special class program in all subject areas — not enough students to create a special class. In this case, the school should implement the Checklist for Organizing Resources (CORe) process immediately, notify the students’ parents and work with them to develop and implement interim supports. Perhaps the school has other programs and resources that can be made available to meet the students’ needs. If so, an IEP team should be convened to consider these options.
On the other hand, if nine 9th-graders with special class recommendations arrive at the same small high school, the school has enough students to create a special class and must choose to create one. It would violate these students’ rights to ask parents to change their children’s IEPs to reflect another program, such as integrated co-teaching. Such a response is considered a “mass change” of IEPs.
Another concern is if a school changes a student’s IEP to remove a special education service for specific subjects, typically ICT in a noncore subject. This change to an IEP is often referred to as a “template change.” If the school does not have enough students to support a special class in a noncore subject, it must explore other supports that will enable the student to make progress in the class.
Special education teachers can and should check the IEPs of their incoming students to see if their IEPs were amended over the summer. If so, they should look for the type and circumstances of the change and file a special education complaint if the change appears to be inappropriate.
There are many other rules — in federal, state and local laws, in regulations and policies, as well as in the DOE-UFT contract — that affect the education of students with IEPs. Information about these rules can be found in the students with disabilities section of the UFT website.