New York City Special Education Problems Persist, Says UFT VP, City Council Speaker, and everyone else
UFT Vice President for Special Education Carmen Alvarez fears that the new school year may be “just as complicated” this year; City Council Education Committee issues a report on NYC Special Education, "Too Little, Too Late".
UFT VP: More special ed trouble ahead
by Michael Spielman, New York Teacher
Nov 4, 2004 7:00 AM
After a year in which problems in special education ran rampant and the UFT filed hundreds of complaints about students failing to receive mandated services, about IEP procedures being mishandled and about evaluations and referrals lagging months behind schedule or not being conducted at all, UFT Vice President for Special Education Carmen Alvarez fears that the new school year may be "just as complicated."
Things got so bad last year that UFT President Randi Weingarten requested the State Education Department (SED) to order the city's Department of Education to provide a written plan to ensure that the violations will not be repeated.
The SED has directed the DOE to develop a plan, but as yet that plan has not been made public.
Over the course of the year, the SED conducted several investigations based on the complaints that Alvarez had forwarded. All these investigations "fully substantiated the complaints," Weingarten said.
Nevertheless, Alvarez said early indications are that the same kind of problems will arise again this year, and she urges teachers who become aware of such problems to notify her immediately.
"The only way we can resolve these problems is if we get the details. That's what happened last year," she said, "and it proved to be the difference in whether we could get children the services they needed and teachers, clinicians and paras the help they deserved."
Members should file a Special Education Complaint Form. The form lets members spell out the details of problem situations so that Alvarez and her department can try to get the school or the DOE to correct them.
As an example of what can be achieved, Alvarez points to MS 54 in Manhattan. She said the school was rife with problems for years, with all IEP students underserved or not served. Last year, armed with the information provided by teachers at the school via the Special Education Complaint Form, Alvarez went to Linda Wernikoff, the deputy superintendent for special education initiatives. All the problems were addressed and corrected.
"This September," Alvarez said, "the school opened with all its services in place."
A new wrinkle that has emerged this year is that in some principals are saving money by shifting resource room students to the IEP teacher (formerly the education evaluator) and excessing the resource room teacher - now known as SETSS (special education teacher support service) teacher.
Union officials believe these budget maneuverings are a violation of law. They say it is clearly not the intent of the law or of last year's agreement creating IEP teachers to use IEP teachers to cover vacancies. According to Alvarez, the intent of the IEP teacher position was not to displace the resource room teacher but to provide additional supports for disabled and non-disabled kids as part of the referral process.
In her request for the SED to intervene, Weingarten noted that more than 400 specific complaints had been received by the UFT from staff members, parents and administrators. She said the violations were "systematic and pervasive" and that they resulted from the DOE's massive changes in staffing and "in the evaluation procedures implemented during the 2003-04 school year." Weingarten was referring to the elimination of the education evaluator position, which shifted responsibility for conducting referral evaluations to school psychologists, whose work loads were already great and now are called impossible.
Weingarten added that the DOE should be required to "provide the affected schools with additional services and support to make up for the year of lost services."
Alvarez said that many students were adversely affected in a variety of ways when they failed to receive the required services last year. One of the more poignant and lingering results, she said, was students who were forced to take state exams without the mandated extra time that special ed students are entitled to and as a result received poor marks.
"This is a stigma they do not deserve," Alvarez said. "What they do deserve is extra support. When is the DOE going to give them that?"
Union: Sub must be provided when CTT is out of classroom
A dispute between the UFT and the Department of Education over full-time Collaborative Team Teachers is before a State Supreme Court judge, and the union is urging members to document all instances where schools do not provide coverage for special or general education teachers with students who have full-time Collaborative Team Teachers.
During the last school year, the DOE interpreted the rules regarding full-time CTTs as not requiring coverage when they are out of the classroom for a period. The UFT grieved the matter and in May an arbitrator decided for the union. In his decision, the arbitrator said that in collaborative team teaching, special education teachers are assigned for the entire day, not just for major subjects as the DOE argued.
But the DOE took the issue to court, arguing that the arbitrator had exceeded his authority.
The DOE claims that since an IEP (Individualized Education Program for a special education student) is governed by federal and state regulations, the arbitrator could not properly make a decision regarding services ordered in an IEP. Moreover, the DOE argues that the issue involves the rights of children which are not covered by the agreement between the DOE and the union.
The UFT contends that the issue is about working conditions of its members, which is covered by the contract and therefore is within the purview of the arbitrator.
While the court decides, which could take many months, the UFT is collecting data on instances where a teacher with full-time CTT students has a prep period or is out of the classroom for another reason and no substitute is provided by the school.
Details of such violations should be sent to Carmen Alvarez, UFT Vice President for Special Education, 50 Broadway, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10004. Members can submit their response by fax at 1-212-254-5578, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. They should include their name, school and how the union can contact them. The responses will be kept confidential unless follow-up is required or the member has allowed his or her name to be used.
- Michael Spielman
Too Little, Too Late
Ms. Alvarez's statement that all the problems at MS 54 were "addressed and corrected" is not true. We spoke with teachers and staff last week, and they told parentadvocates that "it is status quo for the kids, nothing has changed, and if anything, things are worse than ever."
See "NYC UFT Gives an Overview of the 'Special Education Mess'"