By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Elizabeth Alanis and Joseph Vasquez have each other’s back when working with general and special education students at Rosemead High School.
No training, no say
Joseph Vasquez and Elizabeth Alanis are making it work at Rosemead High School.
The two “co-teach” a general education class where five special education students are fully included. Vasquez, the general education teacher, does most of the teaching while Alanis, a special educator, helps students with disabilities keep up and assists struggling general education students and English learners.
“They just said, ‘Team up, you two.’ There could have been better preparation,” Vasquez recalls. There was no model to follow and no training. The two have separate planning periods and seldom have time to collaborate.
“When it first happened, it was a bit confusing for people,” recalls Alanis. “We are slowly working our way into it and making it work. I really want these kids to succeed. But it’s a struggle, and meeting all their needs is exhausting.”
While the two are doing their best, they worry the needs of some students are not being met.
“I would like services and programs returned to our school because some kids are falling through the cracks and we are doing them a disservice,” says Alanis. “But we had no say in this and were not included in the process.”
No professional development
“It was all about saving money,” says Linda Plack, vice president of United Educators of San Francisco (UESF).
Though teachers thought San Francisco Unified had appropriate inclusion in place, the district consultants said the number of mainstreamed students was too low and changes were made.
Professional development for general education teachers consisted of a half day before implementation, says Plack.
UESF members surveyed in January said that professional development is desperately needed for teachers and paras working in general education classrooms with kids who have IEPs — especially when it comes to violent and aggressive students. Teachers reported they had difficulty meeting the needs of students with disabilities while instructing the rest of the class. They also lack sufficient hours of paraprofessional support.
Carolyn Samoa, a special education paraprofessional at Paul Revere Elementary School, says that schools have cut hours for classroom aides, even though paras are needed more than ever for inclusion classrooms with higher numbers.
“Some students only get 30 minutes per day with a para,” says Samoa. “It’s not nearly enough. It’s not fair to the kids.”
Carol Siddle says that increasing the numbers of students with disabilities has been “problematic” at Commodore Sloat Elementary School.
“It has been very chaotic at sites where they have overloaded the classes. Some classes were hit very hard, with 33 regular education students and four students with IEPs. There were six full-inclusion children placed within three kindergarten classrooms, with a seventh child currently qualifying for full inclusion and two others going through the assessment process.”
UESF is organizing and pushing back, says Plack. “We are demanding sufficient classroom support and professional development so we can do what’s best for students.”
“Special education teachers do not interact with or have time to work on specific goals with their students because they spend their time working with general education students, gen education teachers and classroom aides,” explains Trina Brown, a speech and language pathologist for the Beaumont Unified School District.
Middle school special education teachers teach a class that groups special education students with struggling general education students and sometimes English learners. Besides teaching this class for half the day, teachers have a “caseload” of 28 special education students. They are called a “case carrier” and seldom interact directly with students.
“The effect is that kids are not getting the specific interventions that they need,” says Brown, a Beaumont Teachers Association member. “The district has implemented this cookie-cutter program because it’s a huge money saver.”
At the high school level, the district abolished a class designed for students with disabilities and “mainstreamed” them, says Greg Abt, a Beaumont High School teacher for students with mild to moderate disabilities.
“The special education teacher takes a support role. It isn’t working,” says Abt. “Before this happened, our test scores were going up. Once this happened, they started dropping.”
It was the first day of school in 2009 and teacher Philip Ramos couldn’t find the special day class (SDC). The self-contained special education classroom no longer existed because Pomona Unified School District had put all special education students into general education classes at nine school sites.
The switch was made over the summer without input from teachers or parents. A week before school, administrators called parents and told them that if they wanted their child in SDC, they would have to switch schools. General education teachers were not informed beforehand that students with disabilities would be fully included.
“I reminded administrators there must be an IEP meeting with teachers, administrators, parents and staff to change placement from SDC to general education, and it was against state Education Code to not go through the IEP process,” says Ramos, Associated Pomona Teachers. “Administrators told me that they could, in fact, do this.”
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