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Special class staffing

Prior to 2004, there was one “All Grades” K–12 state certificate for special education. Teachers with this certificate could serve as the special education teacher in any and all programs for students with disabilities. In 2004, the generic “All Grades” certificate was replaced with four certificates covering different grade bands. The SWD Grades 5–9 certificate was further broken down into a generalist certificate (for teachers in non-departmentalized programs) and content-specific titles. For the first time, teachers of students with disabilities in grades 7 to 12 were required to have content area preparation in addition to coursework in special education. Additional changes followed in 2011 and again in 2018–19 when the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) eliminated the highly qualified teacher (HQT) requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The new world of special education teacher certification is complicated. A fact sheet prepared by NYSUT, our New York State affiliate, explains the current New York State certification requirements for teachers of students with disabilities. In reading the narrative and reviewing the charts, you will note that biggest impact of the changes is on middle and high school teachers who teach regular assessment students in self-contained classes. This is because they are responsible for delivering both content area instruction and specially designed instruction addressing the students’ disability related needs. Changes potentially affecting all teachers include extensions of grade level bands.

Important note on incidental teaching

Incidental teaching occurs when a teacher is assigned to teach a subject outside of the teacher’s certification area for a period not to exceed five classroom hours a week. It is not permissible to assign a special education teacher to teach a general education class on an incidental basis because incidental teaching is permitted for a “subject” that is outside of the teacher’s certification area, but not for different student populations. In the same way, teachers certified in general education cannot teach special classes on an incidental basis because IDEA requires teachers of special classes to be certified in special education. Incidental teaching doesn’t override that requirement.