Why many parents and teachers fear the special education initiative will fail our children

Two days ago, there were hearings on the DOE’s special education inclusion initiative.  (See NY1 story here; my testimony on this initiative as well as mandatory Kindergarten is posted here.)

The DOE earlier released a power point to reporters and the PEP that showed NO significant gain in either achievement or attendance for students with disabilities in Phase I of the program.

And despite the bland assurances of DOE’s Shael Suransky at the hearings that schools will be provided with any additional funding they need to make inclusion work-- and Laura Rodriguez, head of the special education office, admitting that many of these students need small classes to be successful, the sternly worded directive to principals mandates that they must accommodate children with special needs in  inclusion classes up to contractual maximum of 25 kids in K, and 32 in grades 1-5, with no exceptions and no capping below these levels.

And this mandate is expressed in an extremely punitive tone:

For recommendations that are not in the best interest of students, regular progressive disciplinary measures for school leaders and IEP teams will apply.

These huge class sizes will badly undercut any improvements that one would expect from inclusion and eliminate any ability for teachers to "differentiate instruction," which were DOE's buzzwords of the day at the hearings. For more on this, see my testimony in which I point out how this is the first time I have seen explicit instructions to principals that they must RAISE class sizes far about the C4E goals and far above what is appropriate for students without special needs, not to mention students with disabilities who require extra attention and support.

Here are additional comments from a District 6 parent, Miriam Aristy-Ferer, and also from Brooklyn teacher on how the move to maximize class sizes to 30 and more will likely hurt students with disabilities, as well as the rest of the students in the class:

I am all for inclusion, but what happens when you have a classroom with  30 students; one teacher; and one to three attention-deficit children or children with motor sensory issues? 

The entire education experience is destroyed for all the children in the class. If you do not address the class size problem, adding children with special needs furthers burdens the teacher and takes away from every child's education. This already happens at my son's school.  In large classes, these students tend to “act out”, sometimes aggressively, as their needs are not being addressed, undermining learning conditions for all children.

I say all this because I have a child with special needs and I opted out of a CTT class [inclusion class] because it basically groups every problem child into large class , where even two  teachers cannot adequately support them. It is very hard for me to support moving all of these children into these overly large classes, with only ONE teacher, as the DOE now proposes – Miriam Aristy-Ferer, parent

My principal went to her budget meeting and was told that she must excess 2 regular education and 2 special education teachers.  We currently have five special education teachers as well as an IEP teacher.  To meet the needs of the  IEP students in the school, we will need a K,1,2 and a 3,4,5 self-contained 12-1-1 classes AND  3 ICT [inclusion] classes....that means we will need five spec education teachers.  

The budget person told my principal that she would need to excess two special ed teachers.  When she asked the budget person how she would meet the needs of the students, she was basically told to put them in some other class.  I attended a UFT meeting with DOE people speaking about the special ed reforms.  They SAID that there WOULD be funding to meet the currentneeds of our IEP students.  SO then why are we being cut the special ed teachers we need?  

We were told at that meeting that we could file a budget appeal.  Does anyone know how to go about that or have other advice about how to meet the needs of our IEP students?  (We must also cut two regular ed teachers.....They told her to raise class size to 32 students in the lower grades even though we have plenty of classroom space and are a high needs school! -- Brooklyn teacher
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