New guidance from New York State requires one of two certification options in special class subject areas for special education teachers at the secondary level (grades 7-12). The New York State Education Department (NYSED) announced the change in December 2019.

Previously, under the No Child Left Behind Act, special education teachers who were “Highly Qualified” in one or more subject areas were permitted to teach special class subject areas. Teachers who were new to the profession could teach such classes through passing a “High, Objective, Uniform State Standard Evaluation” (“HOUSSE”) rubric. With the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), those requirements were eliminated and teachers must now possess the required New York State (“NYS”) certification(s).

Effective July 1, 2020, there will be two certification options for special education teachers who teach one or more special class subject areas in grades 7 through 12 with some or no students under alternate assessment. The first is that the teacher, in addition to being certified in special education, is also certified in the subject area that they teach. This may be accomplished through either a limited extension that allows eligible special education teachers to be certified in a subject area while they obtain a subject area extension or certificate, or by obtaining a subject area extension, which requires coursework and passing the Content Specialty Test (“CST”) in the subject area.

The second certification option allows for a teaching experience requirement for the statement of continued eligibility (“SOCE”) and an active SOCE application in the TEACH online system in each subject area they teach. To be eligible for the SOCE, special education teachers must hold a valid special education certification (i.e., Students with Disabilities Grades 7-12 Generalist or Content Specialist; Students with Disabilities Grades 5-9 Generalist or Content Specialist, or Permanent Special Education).

They must also meet the teaching requirement of at least three years of satisfactory full-time special education teacher experience in a special class with students in grades 7-12 prior to June 30, 2020, during which time they were Highly Qualified through passing a HOUSSE rubric in the area of the SOCE sought. They must have taught the subject area in a special class with students in grades 7-12 for at least one teaching assignment during each academic year (i.e., one period for an entire semester or year) under full-time employment. It is not required that they have a teaching assignment in a special class on the date of their SOCE application, but they need to be currently employed in a public school or other school for which teacher certification is required to teach a special class. The years of experience do not need to be contiguous.

Teachers must apply for the SOCE and pay the application fee by June 30, 2020. Details on the guidance and forms are available on the NYSED SOCE website.

It is recommended that Districts review current and potential teaching assignments and certification status of their special education teachers to see if the new SOCE option may be relevant for particular teachers. While the application deadline is June 30, 2020, teachers have three years to complete the SOCE requirements.

This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York State, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Melville, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Uniondale and White Plains, as well as New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.