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CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle’s Remarks to ISBE on Proposed Removal of Special Education Class Size Limits

02/20/2013

Testimony Regarding Proposed Changes to Part 226 (Special Education)
Illinois State Board of Education Meeting, February 20, 2013

My name is Kristine Mayle. I am the Financial Secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, chair of the IFT Special Education Committee, and the liaison to the CTU Special Education Committee. Most importantly, I am a Special Education teacher holding both elementary and special education certifications and have actually experienced the conditions in our overcrowded classrooms.

I am here to adamantly oppose your proposals to change the rules regarding Special Education class size limits. These proposed changes would have a devastating effect on both the members I represent and the students they serve.

What these changes will effectively do is give the Chicago Board of Education and other school districts in Illinois the ability to try to solve their budget crises on the backs of the most vulnerable students we serve. The Chicago Public Schools do not work with the best interests of our students with disabilities in mind, but rather create and enforce policies that compound the difficulties that our students with IEPs experience. If left on their own, without regulation or guidelines from ISBE, CPS cannot be trusted to do right by students. In Chicago, the recommendations of IEP teams at the school level are often thwarted from the district level.

During our recent contract negotiations and strike our members fought for a provision that even our own attorney thought was strange upon first mention. We fought and won the ability to file grievances about violations of ISBE policy and federal law regarding special education. I know that it seems redundant to add a grievance procedure to a union contract for something that is regulated by school code and laws, but my members were adamant that we needed a mechanism to fight the abuses CPS perpetrates upon our special education students. CPS gambles (and often wins) that parents will either not know the rights their children entitled to, or that they will not have the means or ability to fight the violations that they see. For too long, many of my members have been reduced to quietly having off-the-record conversations with parents informing them about the violations to their students’ IDEA and ISBE given rights. Our new contract article finally gives my members the confidence and reassurance to stand up on behalf of their students without fear of reprisal from their employer. What was a great step forward in the battle of special education rights will be ripped from us if you make the changes proposed today.

I spend a lot of time out in our schools speaking to special educators and the clinicians that serve our students with disabilities. One of the major complaints I hear time and time again is that they have too many students in front of them to teach them in a matter consistent with the needs spelled out in students’ IEPs. They tell me about students regressing rather than progressing because they cannot individualize to the extent needed because there are so many students in their classes.

For example, in a school I visited just a month ago, the sole self-contained special education teacher at the school had 3x the number of students she should have had in front of her at a time based on ISBE regulations. Based on the minutes of the students in front of her, and lack of paraprofessional support in her room, she should have only had 8 students per period in her room. In actuality, for nearly all of the school day, she has 24 students in front of her. 24 students was the class size we fought for for our general education classes. How is a teacher supposed to provide a fair and appropriate education for her students when there are 3x as many of them as permitted by your current policy? If you change these policies, I can almost guarantee that 24 students with IEPs in a special education class will become the norm and not the exception in Chicago.

Regarding class ratios, or the 70/30 provision, I have frequently heard complaints of schools exceeding these ratios in numbers of students with disabilities, oftentimes without additional supports being provided for those students needing more help. Changing this rule will give CPS free reign to overstuff classes with special education student without providing the necessary supports. I want to be clear, the use of a true team-teaching model is not current practice in the vast majority of CPS schools and CPS has taken no steps nor made any progress in making this a regulated or supported norm. I was fortunate enough that I was able to experience a functional and authentic team-teaching model at one of the schools I taught at because we were a Corey H./ISBE 40 school. During that monitoring process we received the necessary training and supports to implement a true school-wide team teaching program. But without the urgency of Corey H. or the urging of ISBE to establish authentic team-teaching situations in CPS, it will not happen in the majority of our schools.

My members and I very strongly object to these proposals and urge you to remove these special education proposals. They will be detrimental to both special educators and the students we serve and should be removed from consideration immediately. I appreciate your time today.

http://isbe.net/board/meetings/2013/feb/packet.pdf

Relevant pages: 11-22

Chicago Teachers Union