State to issue emergency waivers for special education teachers

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Nine Anchorage teachers forced to teach special education last year will return to their regular classrooms in September.

The state is granting emergency waivers to teachers who want to teach special education but have not finished their certification requirements, said Jerry Sjolander, Anchorage School District executive director of special education.

The action will allow the district to fill all of its openings and no one will be forced to teach special education who does not want to, Sjolander said.

For years, the district used emergency waivers to fill special-education vacancies. However, the state ruled last August that districts could not use waivers if they had available staff with the special-education credential.

Anchorage officials then moved the nine regular elementary teachers, who happened to have the credential, to unfilled special-education spots.

Some teachers complained, and one even filed a lawsuit.

The reaction led to the state' reversing its ruling, Sjolander said. The complaints went away when the uprooted teachers were told in June that they could return to their regular classrooms this semester, he said.

More than 30 of the district's 700 special-education positions were still vacant Friday, including 12 at the elementary level. The number is lower than last year, Sjolander said, but still reflects a state teacher shortage.

About 8,000 Anchorage students, or 16 percent of the student population, qualify for special education, including students who are blind, deaf, gifted, mentally retarded, learning disabled and autistic.

Earning a special-education teaching credential requires 18 university credit hours. A teacher can be responsible for up to 20 students, each requiring an individualized education plan that involves regular conferences with teachers and parents, plus volumes of paper work.

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