The number of overcrowded special education classes has more than doubled in the last year, according to a new United Federation of Teacher's survey of the city's public schools. As of mid-September, there were 270 overcrowded special education classes -- that's up from 118 last year, the UFT announced Tuesday in a press release. But in some schools, classes for special needs kids are severely under-enrolled, advocates say.
UFT president Michael Mulgrew linked the drastic spike in overcrowded special education classes to a new policy, which demands that schools accept and accomodate most students with special needs.
The reform has had the opposite effect in some schools, according to Maggie Moroff, special education coordinator at Advocates for Children, with neighborhood schools creating self-contained special education classes for just a few students. "Those classes aren't fully populated," says Moroff, and since children must stay in their zones, there is no one else to fill those seats.
While a city contract with the UFT sets class size limits for general education classes at 25 students in kindergarten, 32 in grades 1-6 and 30 to 34 in middle and high school, special education class size depends on the student's Individual Education Program, or IEP. Those class size limits are regulated by the state. Kids with special needs may be in classes of 8, 12 or 15 students in a self-contained (non-mainstream) class. Or they may be placed in a co-taught class with general and special education students and two teachers.
Moroff says the city needs a waiver from the state to have overcrowded special education classes. She encourages families with children in over- or under-enrolled special education classes to contact AFC - it is possible to challenge a child's placement or file a complaint with the state, depending on the issue.
(Ed note: article updated 12:00 pm, 9/27/12)