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Class Size Reduction and Special Education Letter

Letter Head, Delaine Eastin, Previous State Superintendant of Public Instruction
June 9, 1998

To:            District and County Superintendents

From:        Dr. Alice D. Parker, Director
                  Special Education Division

Subject:    Class Size Reduction Update

All indications are that the Class Size Reduction (CSR) Program in California is working well for students in grades kindergarten through three. More students are participating this year, and satisfaction with this program has been high and will continue to increase, according to all projections.

When the CSR Program was first implemented, there were many questions related to the effect of this program on students with special needs. Many of these concerns have been addressed and any problems resolved as the program continues to grow, and needed adjustments are made by local schools and districts. However, there are still some questions being asked, and it is important to remember that both federal and state laws guarantee that the needs of students with disabilities are met and that these students participate in the regular education program to the maximum extent that is appropriate for that individual.

The basis for determining the appropriate placement and services is the student's Individualized Education Program, known as the IEP. The IEP specifies the extent to which the student participates in the regular class and the amount of time. Therefore, questions have arisen regarding whether or not these students are to be counted as part of the CSR Program. However, it must be remembered that no student with a disability may be denied the benefits of an appropriate educational placement, and that the IEP is the determining factor based on individual needs.

The basic rule for CSR permits no more than 20 students in a classroom. SDC students, however, may participate in the regular class for any part of the school day as the 21st student (the student does not qualify for CSR funding, but does not jeopardize the CSR funding for the rest of the class) or as the 20th student (does qualify for CSR funding). This is a local district policy decision that is to be implemented consistently throughout the district.

Resource Specialist Pupils (RSP)

Education Code Section 56362(a)(1) states that these pupils are assigned to regular classroom teachers for a majority of the school day, meaning 50% or more of the instructional day. Therefore, these students are counted as part of the 20:1 ratio for the CSR Program. They will usually receive specialized instruction and services from a Special Education teacher, for a specified period of time and in specific instructional areas, as determined by the IEP. These services can be in the regular classroom or in a separate classroom.

Designated Instruction and Services (DIS)

Education Code Section 56363 states that Designated Instruction and Services (DIS), shall be available as necessary for the pupil to benefit from his or her instructional program. These services can be provided to students who are in the regular classroom full time and need these services or they can be provided to students who are in the Resource Specialist Program or the Special Day Class and need this specialized instruction. If the student is in the regular education classroom for the majority of the day and receives DIS services in addition to this, or if this student is also receiving RSP services, but continues to receive the majority of his instruction in the regular classroom, he/she will be counted as part of the 20:1 ratio. Some students receive only DIS services and receive their academic instruction in the regular class. An example of this would be Speech Therapy. Other students may receive RSP assistance, along with a DIS service, but they still receive the majority of their instruction in the regular education class. Again, the services and amount of time specified in the student's IEP are the determining factors.

Special Day Classes (SDC)

Special Day Class (SDC) Pupils who attend a general education classroom for all or any part of the day (mainstreaming or inclusion) may or may not be counted as part of the CSR Program as determined by local policy. The policy may be to include the SDC pupils in the 20:1 count and receive CSR funds, or the policy may be to not include the SDC pupils who attend a regular education classroom and not receive funds. Regardless of the policy chosen, it must be applied consistently, and it must be auditable. If an SDC pupil is not counted as part of the CSR Program, that student is still allowed to attend the regular class, as determined by the student's IEP, without jeopardizing the funding received by the district for the 20:1 class in the CSR Program.

Special Day Class pupils who attend a special day class full-time are not counted in the 20:1 and are not eligible for CSR funds. The special day class is ineligible for CSR Program funding.

Students in Nonpublic Schools, Home Instruction, or Hospital Instruction

Although these are a part of the continuum of program options available to students with special needs (Education Code 56361), these students do not participate in the regular education classroom and do not participate in the CSR Program. Instructional time in these programs is determined by the IEP, and is often, in the case of home or hospital instruction, for a specific amount of minutes per day, which would be less than 50% of the day.

Some other issues have arisen regarding the effect of the CSR Program on Special Education, and solutions are often determined by the local school district. These include the following:

  1. Movement of Resource Specialist Programs and Designated Instruction and Services programs to smaller rooms or facilities with inadequate space.

    Because of the need for more classrooms to accommodate the smaller classes, some Resource Specialist Programs and DIS services are being moved to facilities that were not previously used for actual instruction. This is not acceptable if the program in the student's IEP can not be appropriately implemented in the smaller space. LEAs need to ensure that students receive services as stated in the IEP, which includes the space necessary to implement the goals and objectives agreed upon. It may also mean services are to be delivered in a group of a specified number of students, which requires a certain amount of space or certain materials to implement the IEP.

    An additional concern noted here is that students with disabilities are provided equal access to activities and programs available to students without disabilities. If access is not available, or the program is located at a different site where regular education classes are not operated, this may be in violation of federal and state laws.

  1. Some Special Day Classes have more than 20 students enrolled, therefore making that class larger than the kindergarten through third grade classes that are part of the CSR Program. As a result some teachers are opting to return to the regular classroom where they have less students and students without disabilities.

    While caseloads for resource specialists are established at no more than 28 students (Education Code Section 56362(c)), with waiver provisions as described in Education Code Section 56101, there is presently no legal class size limit for Special Day Class students. However, again, the IEP must be reviewed to be sure that the appropriate, agreed upon, program can be provided. It is also a goal that all teachers will receive proper support and reasons to remain in Special Education.

  1. Some students are being placed in Special Day Classes instead of Resource Specialist Programs due to the numbers of students in the primary grades, or the opposite is happening where students are being placed in Resource Specialist Programs to increase the numbers and add more classes in kindergarten through grade three.

    It is necessary to remember that a complete continuum of program options shall be available to all students with exceptional needs, and this is required by federal law. All options must be considered at the IEP meeting, and rationale given for the program or services chosen for that particular student. The IEP team must make the final decision based on the student's assessed needs, and the parent must also agree to the placement and services provided.

In summary, it appears that the CSR Program offers some needed services to all students, and the program is meeting many of these needs. It should also offer more opportunities for regular and special education teachers to interact and share their areas of expertise, which will benefit students in both special education and regular education classes. As problems develop, as they do with any new program, it is hoped that local districts will consider the needs of students with special needs and endeavor to share information on resolving these problems with others that are having the same experiences.

For more information related to the CSR Program, please contact Shannon Farrell-Hart at (916) 323-3923 [Note, the preceding contact is no longer valid and has been replaced with Rebecca Lee at 916-324-4533.] . For more information related to Special Education issues please contact Michael Warych at (916) 327-4222 [Note, the preceding contact is no longer valid please contact the Special Education Division Office at 916-445-4613.]

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