THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234

 

TO:

The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents

FROM:

Rebecca H. Cort

COMMITTEE:

EMSC-VESID

TITLE OF ITEM:

Special Education Regulatory Reform and Recognition and Sanctions for School Districts

DATE OF SUBMISSION:

January 28, 2004

PROPOSED HANDLING:

Discussion

RATIONALE FOR ITEM:

To improve student achievement through regulatory reform

STRATEGIC GOAL:

Goal #1

AUTHORIZATION(S):

 

 

SUMMARY:

 

The June 2003 Regents Report, Special Education in the Big 5 School Districts, highlighted issues impacting the poor performance of students with disabilities.  Some were specific to the large five cities, but many reflect special education practices or systemic issues faced by school districts in general.  This report provides a framework for a discussion of special education regulatory reform in the context of facilitating districtsí efforts to improve performance of students with disabilities.  In addition, further examination is needed of our current limited range of positive and negative consequences for those districts that either demonstrate exemplary outcomes for students with disabilities or which fail to address identified areas of noncompliance in a timely manner.  The goals of the special education regulatory reform initiative and the development of appropriate sanctions and rewards are to improve results for students with disabilities statewide, with a focus on issues pertinent to the Large 5 school districts. 

 

Attachment





 

Special Education Regulatory Reform and

Recognition and Sanctions for School Districts

 

This report provides a framework for a discussion of special education regulatory reform in the context of facilitating districtsí efforts to improve performance of students with disabilities.  In addition, further examination is needed of our current limited range of positive and negative consequences for those districts that either demonstrate exemplary outcomes for students with disabilities or who fail to address identified areas of noncompliance in a timely manner.  The goal of the special education regulatory reform initiative and the development of appropriate sanctions and rewards are to improve results for students with disabilities statewide, with a focus on issues pertinent to the Big 5 school districts. 

 

I.          Regulatory Reform

 

We have examined the regulatory requirements that may impact performance of students with disabilities.   While the majority of the Stateís regulations relating to special education are based on federal requirements and/or State statute, there are requirements in regulation only that could be modified to impact student performance and provide mandate relief.  We are focusing our review on the following sections of Part 200 of the Commissionerís Regulations:

 

        Section 200.2, which establishes the responsibilities of boards of education relating to students with disabilities;

        Section 200.5, which establishes the due process procedures;

        Section 200.6, which establishes the continuum of service and placement options for school-age students with disabilities; and

        Section 200.7, which establishes the program standards for students being educated in private schools and State-operated or State-supported schools.

 

We propose to reform the regulatory requirements in special education to:

 

        Increase the numbers of students with disabilities placed in less restrictive environments;

        Promote increased participation of students with disabilities in the general education curriculum;

        Provide increased flexibility as to how special education services can be provided to meet individual student needs;

        Reduce paperwork; and

        Improve cost-effectiveness of special education services.

 

As VESID pursues these goals, it will review research and innovative and effective practices and facilitate a statewide conversation on possible regulatory reform.  Following are some guiding questions and considerations to stimulate the statewide discussion:


Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Considerations:

 

        Should blended class models (e.g., a class that includes students with disabilities and nondisabled students team taught by a general education and special education teacher and/or a class taught by a dually-certified teacher) be added to the continuum of services?  If so, what ratio of students with disabilities to nondisabled students should be permitted?

 

Current regulations define a special class as including only students with disabilities.  While a special class can be located in the same room as a general education class under our current regulations, the unique features of a team teaching model that includes a group of students with disabilities taught in a general education class by a special education teacher and a general education teacher (with or without teacher assistants) are not addressed.  In addition, there are no options reflecting possible one-teacher integrated classes when a teacher is dually-certified in a general education area and in special education.

 

        To what extent should school districts be required to take steps to develop public school options for students with disabilities prior to placement in other public/private placements?

 

Prior to placement of a student with a disability in an in-state or out-of-state private school, current regulations require school districts to document that the nature or severity of a studentís disability is such that appropriate public facilities for instruction are not available.  However, there is no requirement that a school district and/or BOCES take steps to develop such options even if other public school districts and/or BOCES serve students with similar needs. 

 

 

Current regulations in section 200.6 do not identify the range of settings in which special education services (e.g., special class) can be provided from a least restrictive environment perspective.  As a result, many individualized education program (IEP) recommendations list a studentís placement as the provider of the services (e.g., BOCES, public school, private school) as opposed to the setting where those services will be provided (e.g., home school, neighboring school, special education school).

 

        To what extent should public school districts be accountable to oversee a program when it has placed a student with a disability in an approved private school? 

 

Current regulations do not require a school district to visit a private school either prior to placement or at intervals during a continued placement to ensure that the program is appropriate for the student. 

 

Mandate Relief and Increased Local Flexibility to Ensure Participation and Progress in the General Education Curriculum:

 

        Should related services be considered a special education service if it is provided as an indirect service (e.g., consultation provided to general education teachers to assist them in meeting the studentís educational needs)?

 

Current regulations allow consultant teacher services to be provided as an indirect and/or direct service, but does not provide for other indirect services.

 

        To what extent, if any, should schools be given more flexibility to determine case loads, resource room and related service instructional groups sizes, and special class sizes and staffing ratios for students with disabilities?

 

Current regulations establish that the total number of students with disabilities assigned to a consultant teacher may not exceed 20.  The maximum caseload of a speech and language related services provider, which includes only direct service at this time, may not exceed 65 students with disabilities.  There is a regulatory limit of five students per teacher or specialist for resource room and related services, with a variance exception for New York City.  For special classes, regulations establish a range of maximum special class sizes from a class with 15 students to one teacher (15:1) to a class of 12 students with one teacher and a ratio of one staff to three students (12:1+3:1).  Current law allows for a variance of each of these class sizes.

 

        Should there be more flexibility in the chronological ages of students with disabilities in special classes at the secondary level?

 

Current regulations require that the chronological ages of students under the age of 16 be limited to a three-year span (except for students who have severe multiple disabilities and whose programs consist primarily of habilitation and treatment).

 

Cost-effective Special Education Services:

 

        Should minimum levels of service requirements continue to be required?

 

Current regulations require consultant teacher services for a minimum of two hours each week; resource room services for at least three hours per week; and speech and language therapy for a minimum of two, 30-minute sessions each week.

 

        Should the State mandate the formats for required due process notices and the IEP?

 

Current regulations specify the content of the IEP and other due process notices, but not the specific format.  As a result, many districts devote considerable time and effort to form development.  The result is inconsistency from school district to school district on these required forms with a significant number of school districts that do not fully comply with the procedural requirements. 

 

II.         Consequences for Performance: Recognition and Sanctions

 

            The Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) employs a graduated continuum of sanctions for a district or program which are triggered by the failure to fulfill a compliance assurance plan (CAP).  The plan could be the result of a program review or a complaint investigation that identified areas of noncompliance.  Failure to comply with the agreed-upon CAP, results first in an effort to determine the cause of the delay and to negotiate a revised timeline, where appropriate. However, continued noncompliance can lead to the involvement of the school superintendent, BOCES district superintendent and the board of education and could result in the redirection or withholding of federal IDEA funds.  Continued failure to comply at this point would be considered serious enough to warrant the withholding of the districtís federal IDEA funds. 

 

            VESIDís approach to interventions needs to change in two ways. First, VESID does not have a formal system of recognition for districts that exhibit a consistently high standard of compliance or for those that consistently achieve or exceed the goals of VESIDís strategic plan.  We employ sanctions but no rewards.  Second, the continuum of sanctions needs to be revised to reflect a less time consuming and more effective process leading to the required corrective action.  A more balanced system of recognition and sanctions needs to be instituted and some additional approaches being considered may require Regents approval for regulatory amendments.

 

            VESID has looked to other states for exemplary practices, some of which are included in either regulation or statute.  Examples of sanctions include the mandatory redirection of a districtís IDEA funds to target the area(s) of noncompliance, requiring technical assistance and/or staff development paid for by the district, and required public hearings conducted by the board of education to address the issue(s) with stakeholders.  Examples of positive recognition include a congratulatory letter from the Department published in local newspapers, presentation of an award at a public meeting of the board of education and recognition of achievement on the Education Departmentís web site.

 

            It is VESIDís intention to conduct public meetings to discuss a new system of recognition and sanctions.  The following questions will guide our statewide discussion on changes to VESIDís policy and practices to reward and sanction school districts. 

 

        How should VESID publicize special education performance as a means of informing the public of either recognition or sanctions?

 

        Should VESID require the hiring of consultants or partnerships with other school districts in response to egregious noncompliance?

 

        What should be the criteria for positive recognition?

 

        How can the internet be used to increase public awareness of a districtís rewards or sanctions?

 

        What role should stakeholders such as parents and district superintendents play in regard to rewards or sanctions?

 

Next Steps:

 

The next steps in this reform effort are to:

 

        propose specific regulatory reform recommendations;

        have discussions with representatives from key stakeholder groups;

        conduct public forums on the sanctions/rewards and proposed regulatory reform; and

        present regulatory reform recommendations to the Board of Regents in the fall 2004.