The following newsletter was sent to all social workers and psychologists from Chapter Leader Raul Garcia on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Happy New Year and welcome back from your well-deserved break. With all the national news, New Year's Day already seems a long time ago.
The previous year was one of the toughest we've ever faced, but we hope the worst is behind us with the introduction of a vaccine. Toward the end of 2020, like many of you, I felt overwhelmed and exhausted by the constant challenges. We cannot allow these challenges to overshadow our chapter’s accomplishments. Your union will continue its work to highlight your accomplishments and improve your work experiences.
Prior to the pandemic, thanks in part to our chapter's advocacy, the DOE hired more than 400 new social workers and psychologists. Our advocacy has also increased the amount of assessment tools at our disposal. We've addressed issues within the Turning 5 and Clustering processes and will continue to address outstanding issues with both. Our ability to connect with and support each other has improved thanks to our chapter’s social media accounts.
When presented with the biggest challenge of all — the pandemic — we were able, with the help of members, to win the right to utilize a method of assessment that is aligned to NASP suggestions. We also won the right to work remotely, including remote case management hours and remote summer per session activities.
I enumerate all these achievements because, as we look toward the obstacles we still face, it's important to recognize our ongoing progress. As a chapter, we are growing, communicating, resolving known issues and identifying new ones. And we're doing all this by working together as social workers and psychologists with our chapter's executive board, our UFT leadership and the DOE. The past year of work was undeniably difficult, but it also helped strengthen our chapter as we worked together to solve problems.
Please see the updates below. I look forward to reaching more of our goals together in 2021.
Special education evaluations
We successfully advocated for the Comprehensive Data-Driven Assessment, which is aligned with National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) guidelines, to be our primary method of assessment. However, the DOE has failed to recognize that this type of assessment may require more time to complete than our traditional cognitive and achievement assessments. Additionally, our evaluations are often delayed because teachers are overwhelmed and may not be provided time by their administrator to complete the report. Beyond the teacher report, scheduling IEP meetings has become more difficult because teachers may not be provided coverage to attend these meetings outside specific time frames. The DOE has been made aware of these additional obstacles but has yet to provide solutions. We are working with the UFT leadership team to assist our chapter in finding solutions.
Family worker vacancies
Prior to the pandemic, one of our top priorities was for the DOE to honor our contractual right and assign a family worker to each School-Based Support Team (SBST) psychologist. We also advocated for sufficient clerical staff to be made available to our Committees on Special Education (CSE) psychologists. The DOE froze hiring for a while but we have been informed that, as a result of our continued work, family workers are now eligible to be hired in districts where there are no family workers in excess. Additionally, clerical support should be available at CSEs.
If you have a vacancy, please contact your administration (either your principal or supervisor) to inquire about the position being filled. If you do not have sufficient clerical support at your CSE, please notify your administration, your chairperson and your supervisor. If you need further support, please email me at email@example.com.
Case management hours
During the past few months, many psychologists informed us that their contractual 20 case management hours were not being approved. During our consultation meetings with the DOE, we were informed this was due to lack of funding. Thanks to the support of the UFT leadership team, these hours are now funded, and you may begin using them.
You do not need to justify these hours because they are a contractual right. You may use your case management hours remotely outside your contractual work days with the exception of the hours between 12 and 6 a.m. SBST and CSE psychologists should notify their supervisors that they plan to begin utilizing the hours. Feel free to email me if you have any issues.
After numerous meetings with the DOE, we've made some improvements to the Turning 5s process. The majority of the cases — more than 13,000, including all middle school cases — were assigned during the week of Dec. 14, 2020. Earlier assignments allow teams to identify any errors and requests for reassignment and to resolve issues and plan more effectively. Historically, CSEs received their case assignments later in the school year. With this improvement, CSEs will have the same amount of time as SBSTs to work on their Turning 5 assignments.
Each year, the DOE attempts to increase the maximum caseload assigned to our members. This year, we were able to keep the maximum caseload the same. Cases are assigned based on the psychologist’s cluster, and the maximum caseload assigned per cluster is 35 cases. Assignment can be up to seven cases per day of service at elementary schools. If your cluster has middle schools only, you can only be assigned up to 10 cases per cluster. If your cluster is mixed with elementary and middle schools, both rules are applied, but the total caseload should not exceed 35 cases.
As a reminder, the IEP Team, which includes both psychologists and social workers, complete Turning 5s. Clerical tasks should be completed by the family or clerical worker. As with other cases, if you need support, you should notify your supervisor. If your supervisor doesn't provide support, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We know there are more issues with Turning 5 and we will continue to work on improving the process.
I've received several emails over the past few weeks asking whether the process for assistive technology (AT) evaluations has changed. I want to assure you that the process has not changed and the central AT team still conducts evaluations. However, I also want to remind you that in certain cases, professionals in the student's school can conduct the AT assessment without the central AT team. In complex cases, schools must request an AT assessment from the central AT team through SESIS.
The following AT assessments always require the assistance of a central AT team:
- Assessments for all physical impairments.
- Assessments for vision or hearing impairments, which must be referred to District 75’s Education Vision Services and Hearing Education Services, respectively.
- Assessments for all students attending schools served by the CSE.
- Assessments for students with significant communication needs or multiple disabilities.
- Any AT assessment, regardless of student needs, that the school is unable to conduct due to lack of expertise or equipment.
If you or your school is unable to conduct the evaluation due to lack of expertise or equipment, you should reach out to your supervisor since the central AT team is still available. Additionally, our chapter members should not be completing any purchase orders. If you're directed to do so, please email me at email@example.com.
For frequently asked questions surrounding AT evaluations, please feel free to visit the DOE infohub.
During our consultation meeting with the DOE, we have been strongly advocating for our chapter members' right to start per session activities. We believe per session should’ve started at the beginning of the school year and have been informed that per session activities were delayed due to lack of funding. We are working with the UFT leadership team to ensure this needed level of support is funded appropriately. We hope to share a positive update soon.
Redeployment of DECE social workers
Earlier this school year, the DOE decided to redeploy various titles including administrators, teachers and support staff. Some Division of Early Childhood Education (DECE) social workers were among those redeployed. We advocated strongly for our chapter members to return to their original assignment, but the DOE decided to keep them at their reassigned sites. The redeployment was extended until the end of the school year, but this could change depending on the course of the pandemic.
Redeployed social workers can be assigned tasks aligned to the field of social work. However, these tasks should not include non-contractual tasks such as arrival, dismissal, lunch duty or coverage. Your supervisor should provide you with a clear understanding of your responsibilities in your redeployed assignment. If there are issues, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I plan to schedule an online meeting soon just for redeployed social workers to discuss the unique issues you're facing.
Small-group membership meetings
We've been holding small-group membership meetings online since last month to discuss issues specific to your programs and boroughs. We've gotten good feedback on the meetings we've held so far, and we have more scheduled for January:
- Tuesday, Jan. 12: District 75 and related service providers.
- Tuesday, Jan. 19: SBST and CSE members in Queens.
- Thursday, Jan. 21: SBST and CSE members in Brooklyn.
- Tuesday, Jan. 26: (Rescheduled from 1/14/2021) Single Shepherd and school response clinicians.
This year's Clinician Appreciation Day: An online symposium
Our chapter's 15th annual Clinician Appreciation Day is still on! The UFT Member Assistance Program, in collaboration with the Seafield Treatment Center, will host a free, all-day, remote mental health symposium on Hope and Healing: How to Deal With Anxiety, Grief and Change While Building Resiliency. The event will run from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 29.
Attendees will earn five continuing education unit (CEU) hours for this event. If you have not registered, please do so as soon as possible. Make sure you inform your principal. If you run into any difficulty getting approval, please let me know. This is the day where we honor and recognize the hard work of our chapter members. There is no charge. We hope you attend.
Online continuing education courses
The UFT Member Assistance Program, in collaboration with LearnUFT, is pleased to offer online continuing education courses this spring to licensed social workers and mental health counselors.
Any UFT member who is a licensed social worker or mental health counselor can earn two continuing education hours by completing one of these training sessions. Each session costs $25.
We've made an effort to focus on relevant topics during this challenging time. They include trauma and PTSD, self-care, how to build resilience and substance abuse, a much-requested topic.