Letter To The Mayor and Chancellor: Special Education Teachers, Paraprofessionals and Related Service Providers Have Major Re-opening Concerns.

To add your name to this letter please fill out this form: https://forms.gle/gVaSEn7Wpw5pyLQT8 

As Special Education teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service providers, we recognize that many families of children with disabilities are eager for the return to school buildings, and we want nothing more than to serve our students in the classroom. But we fear that the Department of Education’s hybrid learning model will not only fail to meet the needs of Special Education students; it will inflict greater harm on them and their families. All too often, students with disabilities remain an afterthought in education, and unfortunately, de Blasio and Carranza have again neglected these students in their reopening plan. Below, we outline several issues unique to the needs of our Special Education students, families, and staff. Although the DOE has delayed school opening for students until September 21st, this ten-day delay does nothing to address the needs of students with disabilities, and schools remain unsafe for students with disabilities.

Busing

We are concerned about the ability of the DOE to get special education students to and from school safely. The current reopening plan states that all students with mandated busing on their IEP will continue to receive those services, but does not detail how to make busing accessible and safe for all. Firstly, bus drivers and matrons will not screen passengers or take temperature checks prior to students boarding the bus, meaning that a student could travel all the way to school before being placed in isolation. This process places undue stress on the parent who has to travel to school to pick them up, and undue risk to the other students and adults riding the bus. In addition, windows will be open on busses at all times to increase air circulation, violating the IEPs of numerous students with serious medical conditions who require air conditioning and/or heating on the bus. Finally, the current plan provides no accessibility for students who cannot wear a face covering due to the nature of their disability: these are students with the highest level of need, who may not be able to use public transportation or travel independently.

Health & Safety 

Social distancing requirements will pose significant challenges for many students with disabilities. Current guidelines state that each person in a classroom should have 65 square feet of space, and should be spaced at least 6 feet from each other. If a student moves from their designated area, it is impossible to maintain the appropriate six feet of distance unless all other staff and students shift. Special Education students may have an exceptionally difficult time staying within this small designated area due to the nature of their disabilities. 

According to the Department of Education plan that was submitted to the New York State Department of Health on July 31, 2020, it is recommended but not required that students wear masks within schools. The plan states that a student does not have to wear a face mask if it is not “developmentally appropriate.” The plan does not define what developmentally appropriate means and states that it will be determined on a case by case basis, but it seems likely that students with cognitive disabilities will be exempt from the mask rule. 

Social-Emotional Concerns

For so many of New York’s students with disabilities, a hybrid model will pose particular obstacles to providing a trauma-responsive environment and is likely to create further trauma for students. Students with disabilities need and deserve individual supports to receive an equitable education, and many of these supports will be impossible to provide while maintaining safety regulations. For example, students with receptive and expressive communication deficits will face major hurdles in a classroom where all parties are masked.

The DOE’s programming guidance suggests that students will receive uninterrupted instruction in a single classroom from 8:30-1:59, including during lunch. It is deeply inequitable to expect students with disabilities — many of whom receive IEP-mandated breaks during testing — to remain in a small area within one classroom for the entire day. Students with disabilities already face a higher rate of discipline than general education students, and social distancing and mask requirements will exacerbate this inequity. In addition, we are concerned that paraprofessionals, who are invaluable in providing social-emotional support for students with disabilities, may be unavailable to students due to social distancing guidelines or repurposed for temperature-taking, hallway-monitoring, and other non-instructional duties.

Instructional Concerns

We know that remote learning is inferior to traditional face-to-face learning for students with disabilities, but we believe it will be more effective than the DOE’s blended learning model. Many of the research-driven best practices we learned as special educators will be impossible or prohibitively difficult to implement in a hybrid model. Social distancing regulations will prevent teachers and paraprofessionals from providing one-on-one or small group instruction and from utilizing management techniques including proximity and touch. Students’ ability to collaborate and communicate with peers will be curtailed by masks and social distancing. For those working in District 75, hand-over-hand support and direction will be impossible under current safety guidelines; tools for hands-on learning (like picture schedules, manipulatives, sensory items, and picture communication boards) will be difficult to use because of deep-cleaning requirements and restrictions on students sharing materials. And finally, classroom routines for students who require structure will be upended by changing schedules and unpredictable classroom and school shutdowns. 

Related Services

Within a week of schools closing due to the novel coronavirus, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech providers began providing synchronous live therapy sessions to their students. For the health and safety of students, their families, and related service providers, services should continue to be delivered remotely until it is safe to return to school. A safe return includes adequate PPE and cleaning supplies, physical space for therapy sessions, therapeutic supplies for sessions, less travel for itinerant therapists, and reduced session requirements for cleaning and communicating with parents and co-workers. Both push-in and pull-out models currently pose unacceptable risks of exposure due to therapists working with multiple students in multiple classrooms, and often multiple buildings within the same day. Please see Related Service Provider Statement.

Class Grouping

In the DOE reopening plan, there was no guidance given to principals on how to maintain and effectively operate ICT, SETSS, and 12:1+1/15:1 classrooms in community schools. The legal ratio of 40% students with IEPs in an ICT setting may be ignored in favor of creating a more standardized schedule for the school, pushing students into self-contained special education settings, or general education classrooms without a teacher trained to meet their needs. There is no guidance on how SETSS can be administered safely in the hybrid model: if in person, both push-in and pull-out instruction will increase contact between staff and different groups of students, heightening transmission risk. If SETSS is administered remote-only, students will lack those IEP-mandated services when they are in the school building. Finally, no details have been provided to address the unique needs of special classes (12:1+1 or 15:1) in a NYC DOE non-specialized school. We have major concerns about the ability of the DOE and individual schools to provide students’ legally mandated special education services without clear guidance on class grouping and staffing. 

Conclusion

We believe the DOE has created a hybrid plan that is logistically impossible, does not adequately protect the safety of students with disabilities, and fails to address our students’ social, emotional, and instructional needs.  The current reopening plan does a disservice to special education students and their families, and they deserve better.

Signed,

Magda KorewaSpecial Education Teacher
Emma PelosiSpecial education teacher
Jessica Smithteacher, parent
Travis MalekpourSpecial Education Teacher
Lily Lamb-AtkinsonDistrict 75 Special Education Teacher
Sam JaffeSpecial Education Teacher
Jenna WeinbergTeacher
Naomi SharlinSpecial Education Teacher
Judith Loeblphysical therapist
Ilan Desai-GellerGeneral Education Teacher
Tiesha GrooverDistrict 75 Parent
Philip GagnonSpecial Education Teacher
Madi MornhinwegSpecial Education Teacher
Jessica HartmanOccupational therapist
Julienne Krausespecial education teacher
Jillian FletcherNYC Public School Teacher
Sasha ShlyambergSpecial Education Teacher
Liza Trinklespeech therapist
Rebekah McAlisterTeacher
Jennifer FinnSpecial Education Teacher
Tracy LaGrassafellow teacher signing in solidarity
Jacqueline CaballeroSchool social worker
Matthew DriscollSpecial Education Teacher and Parent
Beth BernettParaprofessional
Jill Ebelingspecial education teacher
Sydney EzrattySpeech Therapist
Katie GibersonSpecial Education Teacher
Maddie McCabeSpecial Education Teacher, NYCDOE
Courtney EnglandSpecial education teacher
Melissa WilliamsOccupational therapist
Aideen Dela CruzPhysical therapist
Ava WandOccupational Therapist
Liv DillonManhattan Early College School For Advertising
Nancy OhrensteinPhysical Therapist
Miriam GreenbergOccupational therapist
Leni AbrahamPhysical Therapist
Alexandra GordonSpecial education teacher
Jessica HaasSpecial Education Teacher
Jennifer ClavinOccupational Therapist
Stephen IaniereSpecial Education teacher
Madelyne ToddSPED teacher
Melissa CarlinSpecial education teacher
Bridget ApapPhysical Therapist
Ashley TuckerSpecial education teacher
Meghan RyanTeacher
Alison LoebelPhysical Therapist
Osvaldo Claudio Jr.Special Education Teacher
Elaine LinsanganPhysical Therapist
Julia, HeymannD75 Special Education Teacher
William JohnsonSpecial education teacher
Linda TiradoParent
Lisnett MedinaParaprofessional
Jessica WalkerParent
Irma RuckerTeacher
Brienne TricocheParent
Meg JonesTeacher
Noah BeigelmacherSpecial Education Teacher
Philip, AndrewsSpecial Education Teacher
Natalie Patrizio-TullyMath Teacher
Stephanie NicholsSpecial Education Teacher
Dimary CasillasParaprofessional
Griselidys PolancoParaprofessional
Peter ClockTeacher
Arturo MolinaSpanish Teacher; Chapter Leader
Rodlyne GregoireOccupational Therapist
Joyce HarrisParaprofessional
Veronica PlasenciaBil. School Social Worker
Emily YoungTeacher
Bill LinvilleTeacher
Dermott MyrieTeacher
Scott BrowerClassroom Teacher
Madi CoyneSocial Studies Teacher
Cory Meara-BainbridgeStudent Teacher
David M BrentSpecial Education Teacher
Providence Ryanteacher
Melanie PflaumGeneral Ed Teacher and SPED Parent
Emma, CorngoldSpecial Education Teacher, D15
Catherine StevensTeacher
Clara BaumanTeacher
Karen BernettParent
Rodrigo, SchiffinoSpecial Education Teacher
Ejona BakalliSpecial Education Teacher
Gail JaitinELA teacher
Beth Salzmanoccupational therapist
Jennifer DikesTeacher
Andrew WorthingtonTeacher
Susan McAulaySpecial Education Teacher
Ariel BenderSpecial Education Teacher
Shakera OliverParent Connection, Education Consultant
Liz EdmundSpecial Education Teacher, Parent
Dr. Starita AnsariPRESS, NYC
Katie BlouseSpecial Education Teacher
Stephanie DaRochaTeacher
Jessica Nelson8th grade ELA teacher
Moskoula HarisiadisClassroom Teacher
Christina PrinceSpecial Education Teacher
John SchmittHistory Teacher
Alex CaputoMath teacher
Azeen, KeramatiSocial Worker
Sine, BayarSpecial Education Teacher
Tracy SchaffzinSchool Counselor
Chris GriffinPhysical Therapist
Pearl OhmTeacher, parent
Lisa PinesDistrict 75, Special Ed Teacher
Reetu SahniTeacher
Julissa DiloneNew Teacher Induction Coordinator
Monica PasqualinoPublic Health Professional
Cynthia VeleSpecial Education Teacher
Belinda CristobalPT
Lizzie MartinParent and Teacher
Yamuna BhaskaranTeacher and parent
Stephanie RiveraSpecial Education Teacher
Candice SimonTeacher, Parent
Norma D CulloTeacher
David ChoiSocial Studies Teacher
Ana SimsSchool Secretary
John CaleroSpecial Education Teacher
Louis SeversonTeacher. D20
Anais McAllisterSpecial education teacher
Kiegan MunnSpecial Education Teacher
Lily WittrockSpecial Education Teacher
Rebekah CoraceSpecial Education Teacher
Alyssa GlanzerSpecial education teacher
Heather MakiBronx Arena H.S.
Jocelyn BenfordTeacher
Jen WangSpecial Education Teacher
Marsha SalzmanRetired teacher
Bryan MosherGeneral Education Teacher
JD Davidsparent, public health professional
Kimberly HesdraSpecial Education Teacher
Aaron VenegasTeacher
Dee Anne AndersonTeacher
Teresa LopezSpecial Education Paraprofessional
Raka SpoerriTeacher
Rachel SmithTeacher
Lauren BerkovitsClinical Child Psychologist
Cosette BrownSpecial Education Teacher
Charlotte VinsonSpecial Education Teacher
Claire SkrivanosGeneral Ed Math Teacher
Abraham Cohen-GarciaScience Teacher
Ruth N RiveraSpecial Ed Para
Adam ChawanskyMath Teacher
Sarah FrankSpecial Education Teacher
Evan O’ConnellSpecial Education Teacher
Alexander KrenitskyENL teacher
Ryan HuttickSpecial Education Teacher
Matt PerloffSpecial Education teacher
Hannah FleuryOccupational Therapist
petros chalkitisoccupational therapist
Julissa FernandezFamily Assistant
Ximena ZambranoPhysical Therapist
Fabienne Miot-RuddyPhysical Therapist
Sylvia DiableBilingual Speech-Language Therapist
Christine FernandezSpeech-Language Therapist
Cynthia Paniaguateacher
Penny GreenfieldParaprofessional
Sabrina PomsBilingual Special Education Teacher
ValerieTeacher

To add your name to this letter please fill out this form: https://forms.gle/gVaSEn7Wpw5pyLQT8 

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