The Educational Institute is urging its members to call a halt to the roll-out of 623 new special education jobs, which it says are flawed, unworkable and inequitable.
The union has asked principals to decide by the end of this week if they want to pause the introduction of the Learning Support Coordinators and hold an urgent summit with government ministers.
"We believe a good idea has turned into a lost opportunity because the Ministry of Education has failed to listen to what children, teachers and schools really need," the message said.
"The Learning Support Coordinator role and allocation announced on 2 August is flawed because it is inequitable in nature and - in our considered opinion - unworkable in practice. This rollout will not deliver what children, teachers and schools need effectively or efficiently.
"We know that many schools are desperate for resourcing for learning support and may take the view that any resourcing is better than none, but we need to be cautious about accepting a flawed model that could unwittingly validate and embed inequitable support for children."
The message followed the announcement earlier this month of more than 1000 schools that would benefit from the first 623 co-ordinators from January.
The co-ordinators will organise help for children with special needs.
Chairperson of the NZEI's principals' council, Stephanie Madden, said the new co-ordinator roles were too managerial when schools required more hands-on support for children with special needs.
"These learning co-ordinator won't necessarily be working with students, they'll have more of a co-ordination role and what we're hearing from schools around the country is there's just a desperate need for additional in-school support for kids," she said.
The NZEI had long called for government funding for special education needs co-ordinators, which many schools funded themselves, but Ms Madden said the learning support co-ordinators were not the same.
"What principals are concerned about is this will be an additional layer of meetings, of co-ordination that isn't actually going to make a difference for the kids in our schools," she said.
The president of the Auckland Primary Principals' Association, Heath McNeil, said the co-ordinators were a good idea but there was not enough clarity about their job and they had not been shared fairly among schools.
"We're concerned that it's got a potential to create a two-tier education system, the haves and the have-nots. We've got parents now asking questions about whether access to resources will be determined by what school you go to," he said.
Mr McNeil said some of the schools with learning support co-ordinators had few children with significant special needs, while others with greater numbers of disabled children had missed out.
But Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he was frustrated by the opposition to new learning support coordinators for schools.
"It's frustrating that they're not on board with the learning support coordinators, this was something that they asked for in their campaign last year. They've now changed their position and are arguing that it should be an increase to school staffing entitlement.
"That's not something the government is going to agree to. We agreed to put this extra funding in because we wanted it to be dedicated to that specific task."
Mr Hipkins said the new jobs were exactly what the union had been asking for.
The union's objections would not stop the rollout of the 623 new positions, he said.
The president of the Principals' Federation, Whetu Cormick, said schools in Northland and South Auckland appeared to have missed out getting learning support co-ordinators, even though they clearly needed more special education help.
He said the federation was getting mixed feedback from its members about the new roles, with some principals forging ahead and others wanting a complete change.
"Some principals are actively seeking applicants or talking to people who might be interested in the positions but equally we're hearing from principals who are very concerned about the model. The school leaders that I've been hearing from are saying 'give us the money so that we can spend the money rather than having someone extra on the staff in this position'," he said.
Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin told Morning Report she didn't know how the situation had gone so awry.
"Pilots that were run in 2017 through the learning support delivery model set up by the previous government ... showed that we can lower waiting lists, we can better support children with moderate as well as complex needs. This was something that the NZEI campaigned for and opposition came to see me about to request it. This is something that in 2016 at the inquiry into dyslexia, dyspraxia and children on the autism spectrum that Minister Hipkins and I committed to and have delivered the first tranche of."
She said the learning support coordinator was not an in-classroom role because that wasn't what the NZEI and parents asked for.
"They asked for a fully-funded, dedicated role to support learning support coordination across the school [and] across clusters of schools."
She said it appeared to her that a number of people had not read the job description or participated in discussions about the roles.
"This is about having another human being, who when a teacher says 'actually I have Johnny in my class here, I think they need some assessment because something is not clicking', this person will go away and get that assessment for them. This person will take that weight of that teacher and go and get the support for that child.
"They'll also be the person parents can go and see and say 'my child needs more support' and they are one point of contact for the parents to go and be able to find more support for their child."
Asked why some principals were saying they had missed out, Ms Martin said: "They have missed out on this round ... there were 225 clusters with 1863 schools that were at different stages of implementing the new delivery model. I only managed to get funding for 623 learning support coordinators. There was always going to be people we could not service in the first tranche.
"I made the decision and the allocation to provide to as diverse a range of schools across the whole of New Zealand so that in this first tranche we can test the job description, we can test the new screening tools that we are developing for dyslexia, dyspraxia and children with mild autism, so that we can work with that first tranche before we move onto second and third tranche."
She said she would be "exceptionally disappointed" if principals chose to stop another resource to help children they knew needed learning support.