November 19, 2009

The union talks a good game about special ed violations

I was at the Delegate Assembly yesterday when the UFT management gave a big presentation on its "No Excuses" campaign against special ed violations, which they initiated last spring.

Michael Hirsch's article in the NY Teacher is a good place to start if you don't know anything about how principals are cutting services to kids with IEPs to save money. According to Hirsch, teacher input on the UFT's website for reporting these violations paints a "devastating picture of rampant neglect."

"The number of complaints is staggering," says UFT VP Carmen Alvarez. "But we already know that these kids are failing. The IEP is not a piece of paper; it’s a coordinated effort to save kids.”

Here are the kinds of things Hirsch says teachers are writing in:
Not having two appropriately certified teachers in Collaborative Team Teaching classes when IEP kids require them,

Principals amending IEPs on their own, without input and approval from the IEP team,

Inappropriate disciplinary suspensions,

Lack of paraprofessional support services,

Failure to provide related services,

Staff being denied access to IEPs, and

Therapists being told to discontinue services for students who plainly need them, and

General education teachers unaware — because IEPs are unavailable, in some cases for months — that students in their class have disabilities and are required to receive support and instructional and testing accommodations.
I am trying to figure out which educators have the cojones to register these kinds of complaints. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has, after all, created a culture of aggressive thuggery against teachers. It seems he'd give any principal who wanted to retaliate against a whistleblower his royal blessing, if not a bevy of lawyers to keep this kind of bravery under control.

I haven't yet mentioned the one complaint the union says it's been getting that really hurts the teacher more than the kids:
Teachers with oversized classes and behavior issues that they can’t manage.
It's clear to me that administration will try to convince anyone who's listening that the negative results of their own mismanagement must always be the teacher's lack of skill. It's really not, but who cares about the truth when you're busy cost-cutting and want to "encourage" those expensive senior teachers to think about retiring.

I'm not crazy about all aspects of the union's campaign. Alvarez told the delegates yesterday that under Chapter 408 of the state ed law, everyone dealing with the IEP student has to be informed of his responsibilities in this process prior to the implementation of the IEP. That is one scary feature.

If they're going to mainstream inordinate numbers of IEP students into regular ed the way they've been doing for so many years, I'd rather not know what that little ol' IEP team envisioned for me when they placed those kids in such great and irrational numbers into my classes. They sure aren't going to be walking in my shoes, and I don't want to be held to any of the guidelines they might come up with off the top of their collaborative head. None of them have the experience of what it's possible to deliver in such large learning environments as our NYC classrooms, especially when there are so many overwhelming behavioral issues and widely differing skill sets.

The IEP team will be planning for that single IEP child. I'll be having deal with the whole shebang, and they will neither know of what I'll be up against or even much care.

You can read Chapter 408 of the 2002 state ed law and its amendments in Appendices 1 and 2 of this link. (Scroll down towards the end.)


  1. I'd rather know what is in the IEP. Sometimes it helps.

    I also like when I am called in when the IEP is being revised - but that's rare.

    Plus, it's easy for me to say, working in a place where it is done fairly, and done right. Don't know if I would feel the same if I were working in a school with widespread abuse.


  2. Jonathan - May I give you a few statistics to help you understand what they've already been doing to music teachers in my school for years?

    Per. 1 — 14 (of 46) kids with IEPs, 13 of them in 15:1 classes for their major subjects

    Per. 3 — 24 (of 50) kids with IEPs, 19 in 15:1

    Per. 4 — 15 (of 38) kids with IEPs, 13 in 15:1

    Per. 6 — 25 (of 46) kids with IEPs, 24 in 15:1

    Per. 7 — 10 (of 43) kids with IEPs, 5 in 15:1

    There is no possible way anyone can service 88 IEP kids inside a reg ed class whose capacity is 50. Even the 15:1 teachers get only 60 IEP kids/day max (15 kids x 5 classes).

    Nothing it says in the IEP is new. I've figured out their problems in the first week of teaching them — or equally annoying, as they get added to my class one by one throughout the term when they're removed from other subjects.

    And nothing in the IEP says how you can service their needs except in Never Never Land, which borders on another enemy territory, Jack Welch's World.

  3. We're working on this, right? The 15:1 is being violated in at least two of your classes - but that's a known issue that you are independently pursuing (I hope)?

    What you are highlighting here though (besides your own difficult spot) is a place where teachers and parents (or UFT and parent advocates) should draw together: the controls on mainstreaming kids with IEPs. The IEPs should address the number of kids with IEP, the number of kids without IEP, and the number of teachers in the room.

    Really, in a better world such controls shouldn't be necessary, but in this system, today, if we leave something unstated, they will drive a truck through the gap.

    But back to your 74 - I would be nervous not having had a chance to at least skim the IEPs for something serious. I know (and I've seen it) and I agree with you, most of the stuff will be obvious. It's the non-obvious exception(s) that give me pause.


  4. In most cases, what does it matter if I find something interesting in the IEP. I don't have time to do anything about it.

    EXAMPLE. Johnny vagues out the whole period, can't write much and is disoriented. Then hangs by the blackboard erasing it at end of class. Why? Not to help, but to avoid going back upstairs (lazy, I think). What in the IEP would help me help him? Nothing. Class is over, next class comes in. I couldn't help him in class with his avoidance issues, there were too many other souls in the room clamoring for their individual needs in one way or other: mostly seeking negative attention from me.

    Then there are cases where the important stuff will never be in the IEP.

    EXAMPLE: One year I talked strongly to Jerry to get his act together and stop fooling around so much in class (it was jr. high school). To my horror, I found out soon after that he was being sodomized every night by his uncle. That kind of stuff is not in the IEP, and I'm not saying it should be. But it would have been really useful in my dealing with him in class. All his learning issues were downright obvious.

    EXAMPLE: I couldn't tell if a young person was a girl or a boy. Honestly, I couldn't tell. All the kids called the student "she" and "her," as I was doing. Then a sp. ed. teacher came in looking for the child, saying "Where is he today?" Whom are you talking about, asked I. I literally RAN to the IEP to find out what was going on here, but it didn't say a word about this gender issue. I found out later that "he" knew that he was a "he" but since he looked so much like a "she," he let everyone refer to him as female. I asked what about gym? He said he never used the toilets in the gym. Weird story. IEP didn't help at all. I continued to refer to him in class as "she" -- because that is what he wanted me to do.

  5. And I'm with you, but... You know what's coming. What if one of the 74 IEPs has something non-routine, that matters, that knowing about has value. I'm not saying you are wrong. I'm saying I would be uncomfortable - me, personally - not looking... just in case...