NYC UFT Gives an Overview of the 'Special Education Mess'
The chaos and tragedy of special education in New York City is highlighted on the UFT Website. Print these pages and take your material to every meeting. Read between the lines, and you will see that the DOE is not 'pulling the wool' over the eyes of the teachers in NYC.
The United Federation of Teachers knows that special education in New York City is a mess, as the memo below states. The list of problems at the school level is very similar to the complaints parentadvocates is getting from around the United States. We believe that until there is a Cabinet level position in Washington charged with investigating and prosecuting illegal actions taken by education officials at every level. there will be very little reform, because there are no consequences for anyone who violates the rules, laws and policies. We need a Whistleblower Law that covers non-governmental employees from retaliation and abuse, and we need a new law that gives taxpaying citizens the private right to sue.
Letter to the Chancellor from the UFT Vice President for Special Education, Carmen Alvarez,
March 18, 2004
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007
Dear Chancellor Klein:
As you know, we have been trying to call the Department of Education's attention to mounting problems in special education for most of this school year. I understand that you have now written to principals to find out why there are so many problems with referrals, the assessment process and the implementation of IEPs. Considering the extent of the problems and our constant warnings, it is a little surprising that you have waited until now to pursue this matter. Nevertheless, we are relieved that you are doing so, even at this late date, since until now DOE officials have continually disregarded our admonitions.
This is yet another example of the DOE's practice of non-collaboration. By freezing us out of this serious issue, a specialized area in which our members have far more experience than the corporate managers in the DOE, the department has all but insured that special education would become nonfunctional.
But, if you are indeed now interested in looking into the special education mess, here is what our members have been complaining about all year:
Teachers do not have access to the IEPs for their students.
IEPs are being changed illegally without a meeting of the mandated members of an IEP team.
Mandated services are not being provided to students.
Required classroom ratios are being ignored.
Bilingual services are being discouraged and even prohibited by principals.
Referrals to special education are being discouraged, delayed and even prohibited by principals.
And here are the some of the reasons for these complaints:
The position of education evaluator was eliminated so that the most experienced specialists in evaluating educational progress in children - who also did case management - were no longer doing that job.
By heaping all the assessment work on school psychologists, it is virtually impossible for them to keep up with the demand. Each psychologist must now do the work that was previously performed by at least three people, with the added responsibility of doing case management, training support staff and serving as supervisors of special
Social workers were made optional at initial evaluations, thereby further increasing the workload of psychologists.
By loading all this work on psychologists, it is also almost impossible for them to conduct the counseling and intervention that is an important part of their job.
By eliminating districts there are now just 10 Committees on Special Education instead of 37.
The position of special education supervisor has been eliminated.
Principals spent funds that should have been used for special education on other things. Therefore, they frequently did not hire paraprofessionals to fill posts that were mandated on IEPs. Had they done so there would never have been a need to fire paraprofessionals last summer. These budget problems have become more acute this year since the entire school budget is now in the often inexperienced and unchecked hands of principals.
Professional development has been very spotty, with many special education teachers unable to get adequate - or any - training in all the new disciplines the DOE has foisted on us.
Just as with safety, in the reorganization of the school system, a working infrastructure has been eliminated and replaced with a mere facade, a sham "structure" in which there is very little meaningful communication - and voice-mail boxes are constantly full.
As a result of the reorganization, parents have no real link to any responsible administrator at the regional level who can deal with their problems. Phone calls from distressed parents have been coming to the UFT at quadruple the rate of previous years. We do what we can to take up the slack when the DOE is not available to help parents - but they should be helped by Tweed.
Some of the curricular requirements are not appropriate to the students' needs as set forth in their IEPs.
All this has served to take the "individual" out of the IEP, the Individualized Education Program.
There is absolutely no master plan for special education. Instead, it has been just one scramble after another for principals with inadequate budgets, trying to cut down on the size of special education in their schools, trying to cut out expensive services for students trying, in short, to circumvent the regulations and the law.
That Chancellor Klein, is what has been happening in special education all year long.
It is a situation that needs immediate remedies. We are happy that you have finally turned your attention to this scandalous problem. We will also be happy to work with you to remedy it.
UFT Vice President for Special Education
C: Randi Weingarten
Next is a Question and Answer Session that is copied from the UFT site. The person answering the teachers' questions is Linda Wernikoff, Deputy Superintendent for Special Education Initiatives, and if you read very carefully, you will see that she asks teachers to oppose the Principals' mandates to not give the children in their building any services
Questions and Answers
Presented & Reviewed by
Linda Wernikoff, Deputy Superintendent
Special Education Initiatives
Department of Education New York City
By MICHAEL SPIELMAN
The Department of Education has announced a plan to make sweeping changes in special education that UFT officials say was formulated without union input, that in part violates the contract and that raises more questions than it answers.
The DOE seems intent on keeping most of the plan under wraps - not subjecting its "Confidential Special Education Plan" to any real public debate or scrutiny.
"Many of the changes they want to make have not been negotiated with us," said Carmen Alvarez, UFT vice president for special education.
"It's clearly an attempt to undermine the union," she said.
The UFT has filed grievances on the job changes that the DOE has announced.
The plan has one very important piece of good news: District 75 is left intact as a separate citywide district for children with severe disabilities. This was a fight that the union and parents waged successfully.
However, many of the changes the plan calls for make little sense, according to UFT officials. For example, it plans to eliminate the education evaluator job title. The plan calls for special education teachers, with part-time instructional roles to take on the ed evaluator role.
The jobs of vocational assessment teachers and speech and language evaluators will also be eliminated. Alvarez said the plan does not address the question of who will provide the mandated services these specialists now provide.
There are currently 960 ed evaluators in the schools, 32 vocational assessment teacher positions on the Committees on Special Education and 40 speech and language evaluators on CSEs and HHVI (Hard of Hearing, Visually Impaired).
The role of school psychologists will also be changed, according to the DOE plan. They will be trained to conduct psycho-educational evaluations of children with behavioral problems, but it is unclear just when this training will occur. Alvarez noted that the plan takes no account of the psychologists' present workload.
The planned changes include adding 200 instructional support specialists. Two will be assigned to each local instructional supervisor who is in charge of a group of 10 to 12 schools. These are supervisory titles.
These specialists will become "trained facilitators in research-based instructional strategies," the DOE plan says. In turn, they will train classroom teachers in these strategies. They will also consult with teachers who need assistance with individual students.
The DOE plans to train two groups of 500 teachers in each of two programs: the Orton Gillingham reading program, a "multi-sensory reading approach," and the Urban Schools Attuned Program, "a system of supporting strategies for accommodating diverse learners developed by Dr. Mel Levine."
Again, Alvarez said, the DOE has provided no information about who, when, where or how this will be done.
The plan will reduce the present 37 Committees on Special Education to 10, one for each of the proposed new school regions.
Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings will all be held at the school level, eliminating those formerly held at CSE level. This could mean that parents will be required to meet with the same group three times. The plan appears to eliminate the opportunity for parents to seek review of eligibility and placement decisions by an impartial group.
The plan calls for grants of $2.5 million to be made to schools that have the greatest difficulty meeting "key special education indicators and benchmarks, including LRE (least restrictive environment) benchmarks to assist them in developing meaningful corrective action plans."
At the same time, $2.5 million will be given to schools that "outperform the key special education indicators and benchmarks."
Other than LRE and program recommendations by school teams, the plan does not indicate what those benchmarks are.
"This plan creates many structural changes but offers no details," Alvarez said.
"It looks as though some non-educators down at Tweed conjured it up without considering all the manifestations, the impact on children, parents or staff, without bothering to consult with us about the logic and logistics of what they were doing, without even discussing with us the various contractual issues involved."
Alvarez said the UFT will file additional union-initiated grievances "as we learn of additional violations."
Otherwise, she said, the union will carefully monitor how the plan plays out.
She does not expect things to run smoothly.(Italics added by parentadvocates)