Superintendent Letter Regarding Substitutes


State of Arizona Department of Education

Office of John Huppenthal

Superintendent of Public Instruction


October 24, 2013


RE: Use of Certified Substitute Teachers in the Special Education Setting 

Dear Special Education Stakeholder,

Recently it has come to my attention that substantial confusion has arisen in Arizona’s special education community regarding the use of teachers holding only an Arizona substitute certificate in a special education classroom.  This confusion has apparently arisen as a result of a broad interpretation of a Letter of Findings issued by the Arizona Department of Education (“ADE”) following the investigation of a complaint filed pursuant to the federal regulations that implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There has been significant misinterpretation about what this Letter of Findings means for school districts and charter schools statewide. Be assured that letter does not constitute a sweeping statewide policy determination regarding the use of substitute teachers. Instead, ADE’s Letter of Findings is a confidential education record of its determination of whether a single school district complied with the written terms of a single student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). ADE has not communicated with the field on this matter because ADE believes that its Letter of Findings is a confidential education record.

It is important to understand the role of ADE in the state complaint process, under which this particular issue was brought to the department’s attention. As part of the state’s general supervisory authority as outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), ADE is charged with investigating allegations that a public education agency has violated  a requirement of Part B of the Act and make an independent determination as to whether the school has or has not complied with IDEA. If noncompliance with IDEA is identified through the state complaint system, ADE is required to ensure that the noncompliance is corrected. In the complaint at issue, the school district was found in noncompliance and corrective action was ordered. Each complaint ADE receives is evaluated individually and a finding of noncompliance in one case does not guarantee the same finding in all similar cases.

I am aware that ADE’s Letter of Findings at issue has given rise to a significant debate regarding the appropriate use of substitute teachers. To address the concerns raised, ADE has been working with the State Board of Education to draft a proposed change to the Arizona Administrative Code. The State Board of Education will likely open a rulemaking for this in December with the goal of finalizing the rule change in January, 2014. ADE will invite stakeholders to provide feedback on the proposed rule change  by contacting ADE’s Legal Director, Carrie O’Brien at carrie.o’ or (602)542-3378 when the draft rule is released for comment within the next ten days. It is our intent to end up in a place that is good for students and tenable for districts and charters. We look forward to your assistance and input.


John Huppenthal
Superintendent of Public Instruction


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