Seattle parents and educators protest moves of special education staff
Special education staff at Seattle public schools are being reshuffled this fall to meet the needs of students with disabilities and due to declining enrollment – changes that have been greeted with dismay by over 100 parents and educators who protested before a school board meeting began on Wednesday.
No one loses their job, but special education teachers and teacher assistants are placed in other positions. It’s a decision the district typically makes every October in response to changes in enrollment.
Third-grader La Mecca Edgecombe will soon lose one of her teachers.
“She’s my favorite teacher,” said the 8-year-old, who attends Highland Park Elementary School in south Seattle. “I don’t want her to go and I think they (Seattle Public Schools) made a terrible choice.” Edgecombe said she was upset by the decision and that some of her classmates were crying.
District officials said in a statement that they recognize that “educational staff moves can disrupt students, families, staff and the school community. For this reason, SPS will provide support throughout the transition. These staff adjustments are made for the sole purpose of meeting the unmet needs of students with IEP (Individual Education Program). “
Wednesday’s rally outside of the board meeting was hosted by the Seattle Special Education PTSA and the Seattle Education Association, which says between 40 and 50 schools are affected by the staff shuffle.
“They (the students in special education classes) deserve to be supported as they operate in a system that is not designed for them, and removing that sort of guarantees the student failure that SPS likes to say. ‘they support and who are furthest removed from educational justice,’ said Tess Bath, a teaching assistant at Highland Park.
Edgecombe’s mother, Tiffany Roberts, said it was “like my child was going through a breakup at the age of 8”. His daughter is in the Social and emotional learning, or SEL, program at Highland, a special education program that focuses on children who need extra support with behavioral, social and emotional problems. The program teaches them to empathize, develop supportive relationships, manage their emotions, and develop healthy identities.
Seattle schools have 74 full-time special education staff, district officials said, more than what is needed to meet student needs. But in some classrooms, students with IEPs experience an “unacceptable” student-teacher ratio, with some as high as 54 students to 1 teacher. That is why the measures are necessary, SPS officials said.
“SPS’s staffing adjustments recognize the need to reallocate resources to better meet the needs of students,” the statement said.
Highland Park is losing a teacher and two teaching aids, which will create a ripple effect in the school, said Brianna Armes, a math and science teacher. Students in special education programs like SEL will not be able to spend as much time in general education classes.
“Our goal is to get them to spend as much time in the classroom for inclusion and to help them develop those skills,” said Weapons, who had a few SEL students in his class. “If we lose staff, there will be no people to watch and support them.
Sometimes students will have behavioral issues and will have to leave the classroom, Weapons said, and that’s when teaching assistants step in so other students can continue to learn.
“They are a big part of what it is possible to have SEL children in our (general education) classrooms,” said Girard Montejo, Highland Park teacher.
Kindergarten to grade five students in special education classes will all need to be in the same class in Highland Park, said 20-year-old special education teacher Lesley Teem. She said developmentally it was “so inappropriate”.
“Having a Kindergarten child and a fifth grader who have social and emotional needs in the same program – while that makes sense in terms of numbers, support and investment, it doesn’t. Said Teem.
SEL and students in other special education classes have made so much progress because they have the staff at Highland Park, Weapons said.
“It’s like people who stop taking antibiotics because they feel better even though the doctor says to finish the course,” Weapons said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, they’re doing better, so we can cut that. No, they are better because we have this.