Education — March 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

As Republicans get ready to send EAA expansion bill to gov’s desk, teachers say EAA is in violation of special ed. laws


I have received word that the House Republicans now have enough votes to pass the bill that will expand the State school Reform/Redesign district (HB 4369). Since the SSRRD is comprised exclusively of the Education Achievement Authority until February of 2015, the bill is essentially an expansion of the EAA.

I have also heard the Senate is recessing this morning and will reconvene this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. meaning that it’s highly likely they will vote on the bill, pass it, and send it to Governor Snyder’s desk this afternoon. It’s very likely that the House Republicans will have the help of Democrats Olumba and Santana, a disappointing reality.

UPDATE – 12:22 p.m.: I’m now hearing Republicans are still two votes shy of having enough votes and are still leaning heavily on (“whipping”) holdouts. Olumba and Santana are voting FOR expansion with the majority of Republicans.

As this moves forward, I present you with an open letter from two teachers in the EAA. The letter focuses on the treatment of special education students in the program. I’d like to think that something like this isn’t coming too late to change some minds but I fear that it does. Nonetheless, I want it to be published if only so that we know what we’re getting into and can take the necessary precautions to protect these incredibly vulnerable children.

Here’s their letter:

To All Concerned Parties,

As two teachers from the EAA, one a special education teacher and the other a general education teacher, we are writing this open letter in the hopes of raising awareness about the disservice to special needs students within the Education Achievement Authority. Though we remain anonymous for fear of retribution, it’s our hope that this letter is a call to action to anyone with a vested interest in serving the needs of our most vulnerable students.

It is of our opinion that the EAA is in direct violation of federal and state laws pertaining to the servicing of students with special needs. In schools across the district, the amount of special education students far exceeds the number of teachers certified to service them. According to Michigan law (R340.1749 Rule a.-b.), teacher caseloads at the elementary level are not to exceed 18 students; those at the high school level are not to exceed 20 students. Some EAA special education teachers are required to service 35+ students during the course of the school day. These students are not being properly serviced according to their IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) as a result of these large student-to-teacher ratios.

EAA has also adopted the full inclusion model for ALL students with special needs regardless of academic or social needs. During a special education teacher meeting in the summer of 2012, the consultant firm that EAA has outsourced to handle special education protocol throughout the district, Future’s Education, stated that, per district directive, ALL students will be serviced through resource service only and that the IEPs that stated students should be serviced otherwise needed to be reconvened and changed. These directives were given before the district or Future’s Education Services ever had access to the student’s IEPs to know ANYTHING about a student’s disability, academic functioning level, or social/behavioral needs. They are clearly making decisions based on motives other than student needs.

Additionally, no comprehensive teacher training was given to general education or special education staff on how to co-teach within the inclusion model. A large percentage of EAA’s staff are Teach For America participants whose experience in a classroom comes from a short 6 week crash course on classroom management, instructional delivery, and overall functioning in front of an urban classroom. These are young teachers fresh out of college who have very little teacher training with general education students, and even fewer of them have any experience with students with special needs. Moreover, many veteran teachers do not have experience with the co-teaching inclusion model in order to teach the large numbers of special education students that are a part of their classrooms. Proper training includes hours of instruction, follow-up, and review of methodologies, strategies, and reflection. This model also requires a common prep time within the school day for both special and general education teachers to prepare instruction.

Teaching students with special needs is “specialized” for a reason. It requires a depth of knowledge and a learned skill set that is both unique and focused. We’re talking about our most vulnerable students here and they are being serviced by untrained, unqualified individuals. It’s incumbent upon the district to provide the proper training to its educational professionals to meet the needs of these students.

At the beginning of the year, the EAA offered an optional 25-minute crash course and called it a co-teaching professional development. This was before teachers even knew the subject area they were teaching or if they were even going to co-teach or not. It takes years of training, not minutes, to learn how to properly service students with disabilities. It’s scary that anyone would believe 25 minutes is enough—scarier still that those people are district level leaders tasked with the educational well–being of children. Although full inclusion is a district wide initiative, the district has provided NO proper training to prepare their teachers and have left not only their teachers, but also the students in the dark.

In accordance with federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the EAA is required to provide assistive technology devices and transition services for special education students as dictated in IEP’s. Neither the district nor Future’s has provided ANY instruction to their special education teachers on where to obtain required AT devices, or provided contact information or protocol for contacting and inviting transition services to IEP meetings. Teachers have been in IEP meetings and have requested assistive technology to support students; they have been told by Future’s employees that they don’t have that device and that the teacher could not write it into the IEP. Student need is what determines IEP support services, not what the district chooses to provide or not provide. Assistive technology devices and transition services are there to assist special education students in the general education environment and be successful in living independent lives. By withholding these necessary devices and services, the EAA is placing these students at a GREAT disadvantage.

To that end, we ask that all legislative members from the state House, Senate and Governor’s office launch an immediate investigation into the EAA’s procedures in regards to special needs students. We also ask that any teachers of the EAA who are reading this to contact parents of special needs children and alert them to the district’s failures. Ultimately, it’s the voice of the parents that will have the biggest impact in creating a very necessary change. Finally, we ask the EAA district level administrators to outline their special education positions in a detailed, transparent, and thorough fashion. We ask that the outline be sent to all teachers and parents in the EAA as well as articulated through the media as a way to ensure that all students, special needs or otherwise, are properly serviced both morally and legally.

The EAA promised a vision that would protect and educate the lowest achieving schools in the city. Furthermore, they have a duty to service the needs of those schools’ most vulnerable children. Their failure to do so is a moral outrage that requires immediate action that is long overdue. The time to act is now.

Concerned Educators of the EAA