New rules proposed in face of special ed teacher shortage

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state Department of Education is proposing rules that would result in fewer untrained people teaching special education students.

However, the new rules also could mean that some teachers would be unwillingly reassigned to special education students.

Special education includes students with learning or physical disabilities, mental retardation, emotional disturbances, and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

Under the proposed rules, school districts would have to reassign qualified teachers to fill special education positions, rather than get waivers from state requirements for qualifications.

The agency also wants to prevent some teachers from dropping the special education endorsement from their state teaching certificate.

The rules come at a time when special education teachers are hard to find. Critics of the rules said the shortage of special education teachers won't be addressed until there's higher pay, lower work loads and relief from paperwork.

Some educators and parents think it's better to use teachers still in training than unwilling teachers.

Juneau schools Superintendent Gary Bader said he'd rather have the ability to ask for a waiver. He said he does not want to be required to reassign ''teachers from a position where they are thriving and force them to be in a position they don't want to be in.''

Faye Nieto, executive director of Parents Inc. in Alaska, a nonprofit organization that trains parents of children with disabilities, agreed.

''As a parent, I would prefer to hire someone with a waiver because that person wants to be there, and I want my child with someone who wants to be with them,'' she said.

Some special education students are in regular classrooms and they benefit from teachers who have special education endorsements, Nieto said. She wouldn't want to see those teachers transferred out of the regular classrooms.

The proposed rule on waivers is in response to a complaint filed this year about past waivers for the Anchorage School District. Some waivers went to teachers who didn't meet the requirements, according to Marc Grober, an Anchorage attorney who voiced the complaint.

He said students weren't getting the benefit of qualified teachers. The state allows school districts to hire certificated teachers for special education who haven't completed coursework toward a special education endorsement, if the districts can't hire an endorsed person.

The waiver is valid for up to three years and depends on annual progress toward completing the coursework. The state granted one waiver in 1998, 12 in 1999 and 35 this year, said state Department of Education spokesman Harry Gamble.

Twenty Anchorage teachers were transferred to special education this school year because the state wouldn't give the district waivers, after it reconsidered its policy in light of Grober's complaint.

Twelve of the teachers took $3,000 bonuses to make the move. The others were reassigned against their will, Roses said.

The proposed rules would keep special education teachers

tied to their jobs unless there's a replacement for them, said Rich Kronberg, president of National Education Association-Alaska, a teachers' union.

''It's a Band-Aid,'' he said of the regulations. ''And in the long run it will be counterproductive.''



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