Guidance for Operating Preschool Special Classes in DOE Pre-K Centers
Preschool special classes serve only students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) whose needs cannot be met within a general education class or special class in an integrated setting (SCIS). Children in a special class have similar levels of academic and learning characteristics, social development, physical development, and/or management needs. Special classes are led by a special education teacher and often have one or more paraprofessionals. There are typically 6 to 12 students in a special class.
Preschool children in special classes receive IEP recommendations and program placement from their local Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE). Children in special classes have considerable educational needs, which require a comprehensive special education program to meet their IEP goals. These children require a greater deal of adult support, attention, direction, and supervision than is typical in general education settings to benefit from the instructional program. Children in special classes may also be recommended to receive related services, assistive technology, paraprofessional services, or other supplementary aids and services.
Least Restrictive Environment and Special Classes
IEPs are targeted to provide the least restrictive environment (LRE) that is appropriate to meet a child’s needs. This means that preschool children with disabilities receive programs and services in a setting with non-disabled peers to the greatest extent appropriate. The CPSE team will first consider if a child’s needs can be met in a general education setting. Other settings, such as a SCIS or special class, are considered only if the child would not be able to make meaningful progress in a general education class, even with the help of supports and services.
In a special class, access to typically developing children can occur during different points of the school day, such as outdoor gross motor play or music and movement. Children and families must also have access to the broader school community, including family and community engagement efforts and resources available to support all children.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that all students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum. The IEP is designed to meet the child’s needs to support progress within the general education curriculum.
LRE also considers the intensity of support provided with related services and paraprofessional recommendations.
For additional information, please refer to “School Districts’ Responsibilities to Provide Students with Disabilities with Specially-Designed Instruction and Related Services in the Least Restrictive Environment” Special Education Field Advisory issued by the New York State Education Department in December 2015.
Regulations Governing Preschool Special Classes
In New York State, preschool special education programs, including special classes, are approved by the New York State Education Department (SED) pursuant to Section 4410 of the Education Law. Preschool special classes are subject to SED regulations and guidance.
Approval to Operate
Pre-K centers must submit interest to open a special class to the DOE Central Office (email Rebecca Burke at RBurke11@schools.nyc.gov). A submission of interest is not an approval to operate a special class. The DOE Central Office will review the request, analyze need in the area, gather documents, submit an application to SED, and receive authorization prior to a special class opening. The DOE Central Office will work directly with schools to gather necessary documentation and offer appropriate supports. All schools will receive official notification upon approval by SED.
In accordance with SED regulations, preschool special classes must be available to children with IEPs ages 3 and 4; this includes students with IEPs transitioning to kindergarten or going through the “Turning 5” process. Because a special class is a state-approved preschool special education program that serves children age 3 and 4, the age requirement set out by Chancellor's Regulation A-101 does not apply to students who are placed in a DOE-operated special class by the CPSE. Therefore, all pre-K centers must welcome all students placed in special classes with an IEP recommendation for special class, including 3 year-olds.
Classroom Rations and Requirements
SED guidance states:
- The chronological age range within special classes serving preschool students cannot exceed 36 months unless granted special approval. Contact Rebecca Burke (RBurke11@schools.nyc.gov) with questions.
- Pre-K centers are approved to operate special classes with a 12:1:2 student-special education teacher-paraprofessional ratio. This means up to 12 special education students, one special education teacher, and two classroom paraprofessionals. The DOE Central Office can provide more information about a school’s approved classroom ratio(s). Email Rebecca Burke (RBurke11@schools.nyc.gov).
- Only preschool students who have IEPs that recommend “Special Class” should be placed in a special class.
- An IEP recommending this setting should state “Special Class” along with the classroom ratio as the recommended program.
- Special class is not the least restrictive environment for children whose IEPs recommend Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT) and/or Related Services (in a general education setting), or SCIS.
- Children whose IEPs recommend Residential Placement require a more restrictive setting than special class.
- Special class ratios must be maintained during all instructional periods of the school day.
Placement and Enrollment
The Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) is responsible for the placement of preschool students with IEPs that recommend special class. The CPSE will reach out to a school to make placement arrangements. There is no screening process by the pre-K center.
After a student is placed by the CPSE in a special class, the pre-K center should enroll the student on the school’s register in ATS using the grade code 359. ATS class codes for special classes should use letters that correspond to the appropriate physical location +9 +1. For example, in D21, if special classes are in building K787, the first class would be B91 and the second would be B92.
The CPSE needs to be aware when the ATS process at a pre-K center is underway. In response, the CPSE will authorize the student in the CPSE system, which is needed in order for transportation to be arranged.
The preschool special education process is rolling. Children can be placed in special classes throughout the school year.
A special class cannot be over-enrolled unless granted special permission. Email Rebecca Burke (RBurke11@schools.nyc.gov).
Evaluations, IEPs, and Arrangement of Services
The CPSE is responsible for coordinating evaluations, determining eligibility, developing IEPs, and arranging preschool special education services that cannot be provided by pre-K centers. Pre-K centers are expected to implement IEPs, oversee the delivery of services, notify the CPSE of any changes in a child’s services or needs, and participate in CPSE (IEP) meetings.
Schools should work with a child’s affiliated CPSE office as needed. CPSE offices serve families in their home district, regardless of where children attend preschool.
Related services for preschool students should be provided by DOE providers whenever possible. Both school based DOE providers and centrally based itinerant physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), and speech providers may serve pre-k students.
In pre-K centers, PT, OT, and speech therapy should be assigned to the pre-K related service itinerant team, whenever possible, whether children are enrolled in special classes, SCIS class, or general education-only classes. Additional services, including 1:1 paraprofessional mandates, counseling, orientation and mobility, hearing, vision, and nursing services, are arranged by the CPSE. If a pre-K center (in partnership with the pre-K related service itinerate team) does not have capacity to provide OT, PT, and/or speech services to preschool students, the school should contact the CPSE responsible for the child’s case (based on the student’s home district) and request that the CPSE identify a contract provider. Ultimately, it is the pre-K center’s responsibility to work with relevant DOE staff, including the pre-K related service itinerant team and CPSE staff, to ensure that related services are in place as required by the student’s IEP.
Questions regarding preschool related services can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pre-K centers have access in SESIS to the IEPs of preschool students with disabilities registered at the school. Schools should ensure that all services indicated on each child’s IEP, whether arranged at the school or by the CPSE, begin and are monitored so that each child at the school is served in accordance with his or her IEP.
For step-by-step instruction in SESIS see “ How to Search for Pre-K Students with IEPs Attending your Program.”
For additional information, please refer to “Pre-Kindergarten IEP Distribution and Best Practices.”
Hours of Operation and Instruction
Full-day preschool special classes in pre-K centers should operate for no less than six hours and 20 minutes per day with a minimum of five hours of instruction. For special classes, breakfast, lunch, snack, and rest/nap time are not considered instruction.
The School Allocation Memorandum (SAM) provide resources to support the implementation of preschool programs at pre-K centers. According to SAM No. 68, special classes support all of the elements of the preschool general education model but also include a special education teacher (with prep period and absence coverage), an additional classroom paraprofessional (with prep period and absence coverage), two additional paraprofessionals (with absence coverage), and other than personal services. Beginning in FY18, pre-k centers also received the following funding for the special education teacher and classroom paraprofessionals:
- Absence coverage (8 days per teacher and classroom paraprofessional)
- Shared planning time for teachers and classroom paraprofessionals
- Funding for discretionary allocation per class, start-up materials for new classroom, and a team of related service clinicians, including one speech provider, one occupational therapist, and one physical therapist.
All preschool students with IEPs that recommend special class and attend a SED approved preschool special education program are provided transportation to and from the program. These children will appear in the NYC Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) pre-K rider system once placement at the pre-K center is confirmed in the system by the CPSE. Pre-K centers should utilize their OPT issued username and password to access the pre-K rider system and enter the required session time for children. Once the session time has been entered and saved, the information is immediately sent electronically to the appropriate transportation provider. If a school requires assistance or guidance in accessing or utilizing the pre-K rider system, they may contact the OPT pre-K customer service hotline by calling 718-482-3800.
Preschool programs must assist all children in their varying stages of proficiency in toileting. Children cannot be denied entry to or removed from any pre-K program if they have not yet mastered all of their developmental milestones.
The paraprofessional is responsible for changing diapers and helping children after bathroom accidents as necessary. All paraprofessionals involved in diapering and helping children after accidents must receive Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Blood Borne Pathogen Training and the Hepatitis B vaccine free of charge.
For additional guidance, see the Division of Early Childhood Education (DECE) Pre-K for All Handbook page 22.
Pre-K centers that operate special classes must provide three (3) reports of progress per year for preschool students receiving 10 months special education services and four (4) reports of progress per year for preschool students receiving 12 month special education services as required under the terms of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education, Part 200, section 200.4(d)(2)(iii)(c). Progress reports should be distributed to the child’s parent and should contain, at a minimum:
- A review of the educational/related service(s) IEP goals and objectives and the student’s current levels of performance in achieving the goals;
- A review of the educational/related service(s) to which the report pertains, including a description of the student’s response to the service and/or current levels of performance;
- The extent to which progress is sufficient to enable the child to achieve the annual goals and the extent to which that progress is sufficient to enable the student to achieve the goals by the by the end of the IEP period; and
- Suggested modifications to the duration and frequency of educational/related service(s), if any, and recommended changes to goals and objectives, if any.
Progress reports can be used during annual reviews and requested reviews (IEP meetings) with the CPSE as well as transition to kindergarten (“turning 5”) meetings with school-age IEP teams.
For support in developing preschool progress reports, email Rebecca Burke (RBurke11@schools.nyc.gov).
Parent Counseling and Training
Parent counseling and training can be recommended as a related service on an IEP. Parent counseling and training means assisting parents in understanding the special needs of their child, providing parents with information about child development, and helping parents to acquire the necessary skills that will allow them to support the implementation of their child’s IEP. Staff at the pre-K center, such as a special education teacher or related service provider, can implement parent counseling and training with the relevant parents in the school. Schools may also refer parents to parent workshops on topics such as autism, behavior, and communication.
For more information, please refer to the DOE’s “Parent Counseling and Training for Students with a Classification of Autism”
The DOE is committed to creating truly inclusive preschool classrooms that provide access, appropriate supports and services, and a solid foundation for future success. The following resources are available to deepen best practices for supporting students with IEPs in preschool classrooms:
- Family engagement and preschool special education
- Using IEP goals in the pre-K classroom
- Collaborating with preschool special education providers
- Accommodations and modifications for preschool children
- Creating an inclusive school for principals
- Creating in inclusive classroom for teachers.
If your school requires support in using best practices in your special class, contact the DOE Central Office (email Rebecca Burke at RBurke11@schools.nyc.gov).