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Albuquerque, NM: 23.3% of students have special needs; debate over inclusion

May 17, 2023, Albuquerque (NM) News: Teacher's Union Passes Resolution as APS Cuts Special Education Groups,28097

In late February, Teryan Ulibarri was sitting in a staff meeting for special education teachers when she was told that Albuquerque Public Schools would be cutting Small Group and Inclusion classes for science and social studies courses.

In a move from the district's Special Education Department, head teachers for special education programs were reportedly instructed to phase out both Small Group and Inclusion Science and Social Studies courses over the next two school years. In response, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation Representative Council passed a resolution to address the issue. The resolution cites that the plan violates a district-union contract and opens the district up to lawsuits.

The initiative only would allow general education science and social studies courses for students with special needs.

A letter from Ulibarri to Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein states that teachers were told APS is over-servicing special education at the middle school and high school level and, since there are no written goals for science and social studies in a special education student's individual plan, the courses would be cut.

The district also argued that special education students would do better in a general education setting because of its inclusivity.

In APS, special education students comprise 23.3% of the student population. Each special ed. student has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). An IEP is a plan created by a team of teachers, the student and their family to ensure that students with special needs are receiving the appropriate services.

"They're saying because we don't write goals for science and social studies, they don't need to be in small group science and social studies class. But within the context, of those contents, you are teaching reading, writing and math," Ulibarri said. "Each student with an IEP is going to be affected by this...because we're removing options for them. "

Ulibarri said she's worried that special education students will be left behind. "A regular [education] teacher cannot meet the diverse needs of each of of those kiddos now being pushed in, nor should they have to. And they don't have the proper education or training to do so," she said.

Sean Thomas, a general education social studies teacher and president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, echoed Ulibarri and said that teachers still have a lot of questions about the initiative.

"In terms of details, there hasn't been much, which is one of the main problems. We don't know how we're gonna provide the support students need if they're still in need of extra support and inclusion classes; there's no answer for that," Thomas said.

Thomas said teachers are also wondering what this means for their profession. Questions have surrounded what will happen to those who teach social studies and science to special education students.

"There's a lot of worry and kind of panic about what does this mean for our colleagues who have been supporting these kids in these small group settings. I think not having a lot of information is creating a lot of confusion," Thomas said. He said that he is unsure anyone knows what this initiative looks like in practice.

Thomas speculates that cutting the courses is a way for the district to save money on staff. With fewer small group classes, fewer teachers would be needed. "It sounds like we're gonna balance the budget once again off the backs of our students instead of doing what's right for them," Thomas said.

A spokesperson for APS said that public school districts across New Mexico have been tasked with improving student outcomes for vulnerable populations in the aftermath of the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit. ...

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