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City planning to help laid-off teachers get special ed jobs

Faced with the possibility of laying off more than 6,000 school teachers, New York City school officials are privately working on a plan to save some of their jobs.

The plan would improve laid off teachers’ chances of staying in the school system by retraining them for a new subject area for which schools are in perpetual demand: special education. The retraining would happen at local education schools, at night or on weekends, so that teachers could remain working in schools without a pause.

The plan would make teachers more marketable at a time when the city is struggling to fill classroom vacancies in special education, said Deputy Chancellor John White at a citywide school board meeting last night.

DOE officials estimate they will need to hire between 600 and 800 special education teachers next year, though that number could shift as teachers retire or move.

The vacancies in special education likely won’t be enough to employ every laid off teacher who gets recertified and some could gamble on the city’s offer and still find themselves out of work. The city has already recruited nearly 500 Teaching Fellows and Teach for America members who plan to compete for special education positions.

But the plan would give the city a way to hold onto teachers who schools have already spent years training.

“This is a way to give laid off teachers another option to help them keep working in our schools,” said DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte. “They will be great candidates because they have teaching experience.”

Though discussions between the DOE and universities — one of which is the City University of New York — are ongoing, officials have agreed on the outlines of a plan.

Teachers who are already certified would be eligible to get a second license in special education, but the city would only cover the cost of their coursework if they find a job. Those who decide to take this route would immediately get what’s called a “Transitional B Certificate,” which would allow them to teach special education students by day while taking night classes to get their new licenses.

In one example, a principal who can no longer afford to keep her newest social studies teacher on staff could suggest that teacher take the city up on its offer, go back to school, and fill the school’s special education vacancy next year.

It remains unclear how many new certifications the city can afford to pay for, Forte said.

Many of the city’s newest teachers who are in alternative certification programs such as Teach for America or Teaching Fellows, would not be eligible for the program as these teachers are not yet certified. Forte said it may be possible for these programs to work with teacher colleges to change their members’ certification areas, switching them from specializations in English and social studies to special education.

Teachers who decide to get new licenses are likely to be more desirable job applicants — they’d arrive with several years of teaching experience — but there would be sacrifices involved. An English teacher one year away from tenure who switches to teaching special education next year wouldn’t be able to transfer those two years and immediately qualify for tenure the following year.