In California, school districts are using misleading language and changing job titles of personnel to deliver special education programs that are not individualized to the needs of the students, but generic in nature. What is occurring in California is documented in the report entitled “Special Education in California.”
Outside consulting firms are recommending blending special day classes with resource classes, reducing certificated and classified staff, and removing students from special education, if possible.
By changing the name of a special education program to Specialized Academic Instruction (“SAI”), districts are circumventing requirements regarding services, resources and limits on student numbers. SAI is a catchall to describe a variety of instructional services on a student’s IEP. Districts are cutting programs, moving most special education students to general education classes and labeling it SAI.
The end result: General education teachers are assigned students with disabilities without receiving the proper training, a manageable class size or supports like paraprofessionals to help them succeed. Special education teachers say they can no longer recommend the best options for their students and they are seeing caseloads of more than 75 students and may have 50 students in a classroom.
California schools are eliminating services and resource programs for students with “mild to moderate” disabilities. General education teachers are told to collaborate with special education teachers to learn strategies for teaching students with special needs, which they were glad to do. But they were not given common planning periods, so collaboration between general and special education teachers has been spotty.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) requires that a local education agency provide a “full continuum” of options in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) whenever possible to meet a student’s individual needs.
The full continuum might include inclusion or “mainstreaming” with appropriate supports in place; classes where students are in self-contained classrooms all day or just for certain subjects; resource specialist programs where students are pulled out for small-group or individualized instruction in certain subjects; or general education and special education teachers working as a co-teachers.
Administrators claim they are “forced” to mainstream nearly all students with disabilities to comply with federal requirements and therefore disband other programs, but that is untrue, according to CTA experts. In many cases, districts just want to save money.
To escape the “full continuum” requirement, some districts are changing specific job titles to education specialist, the designation of an advanced credential held by special educators, as a way to “reorganize” special education. This allows placement of students with disabilities into general education classrooms without the services, support, training and additional personnel it takes to have successful inclusion.
Changing a job title in no way justifies cutting services, she added. In this case, changing job titles increases workloads. When districts change a mandated job to “specialized academic instructor,” the limit of 28 students with special needs no longer applies. Plus, special education teachers are assigned general education students who are struggling.
California educators say students with disabilities are forced into general education classes because other options have been removed from IEP paperwork. In fact, when IEP team members are asked to check the resources they believe would be best for students, the special day class (“SDC”) and resource specialist program (“RSP”) classifications have been removed from forms in many districts. Thus, they cannot choose from a “full continuum” of service as required by law.
What can you do as a parent?