The West Virginia Board of Education passed policy changes last week that cap the percentage of students receiving specially designed instruction for disabilities that schools can place in general education classrooms.
The previous state school board Policy 2419 contained a recommended maximum. It said the percentage of these students “should approximate natural proportions that are no more than 30 percent of the total class enrollment when integrated classrooms are established in” English language arts, math, science and social studies.
The board previously put out for the official public comment period a proposal that the proportion “must not exceed 50 percent of the total class enrollment.”
But the version the board approved last week establishes separate definitions for two types of classrooms that contain both special and general education students: “integrated” and “cotaught.” The new maximum allows different percentages of special education students for each.
“Special education students requiring specially designed instruction” won’t be able to make up more than half of a co-taught classroom, in which a general and special education teacher share duties. Co-teaching is defined as having “two or more professionals delivering substantive instruction to a diverse or blended group of students in a single physical space.”
In an integrated classroom, which doesn’t have a special education teacher assisting the general education teacher, special education students requiring accommodations won’t be able to make up more than 30 percent.
The new enrollment cap for special education students in integrated classrooms doesn’t apply to classrooms not in English language arts, math, science or social studies. And prekindergarten classrooms are regulated by a separate section of the policy.
Brandon Tinney, a staff representative for the West Virginia branch of the American Federation of Teachers, seemed to urge the board at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting to shoot down the policy changes.
But AFT-WV President Christine Campbell, to whom Tinney referred a reporter, said the union actually supports the percentage caps instituted in the final version of the policy.
AFT-WV had opposed the originally proposed change to that section — arguing for a 30-percent mandated cap rather than the originally proposed 50-percent cap — before the definition of the two types of classrooms was split.
“We’re glad that they have clarified the difference between an integrated classroom and a co-taught classroom and that the percentages need to be different in different situations,” Campbell said. “We would like to see additional resources in every classroom to meet all the needs of all the students, but prior to these changes, we didn’t have any cap, so we are moving in the right direction.”
The approved changes also increase from six to eight the number of Level I needs students allowed per special education teacher in small-group instructional periods in third- through fifth-grade special-education-only classrooms. Campbell said her union doesn’t support this change.
Level I students are considered to have lower needs than Level II and III students.
Instructional periods for third- through fifth-grade Level I students will be able to have nine to 12 students, but that will require providing another qualified adult to help the special education teacher.
The version of the increase in the student-teacher ratio originally put out for public comment would’ve increased the ratio in these situations for not just third- through fifth-graders, but for kindergarten through second-graders, as well. In the version the board ultimately passed last, kindergarten through second grade will keep the same cap of no more than six students before another qualified adult is required.
Pat Homberg, executive director of the state Department of Education’s Office of Special Programs, said the department tweaked the proposed ratio change before the board’s final passage in response to public input calling for smaller class sizes for the younger students.
Homberg said those wanting more information about the policy changes can call 304-558-2696. She also said in the future more information on the policy changes will be available on the website for the Office of Special Programs — also called the Office of Special Education — at wvde.state.wv.us/osp.
She said there will also be regional public presentations on the changes.
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