A Jeffco mom spoke to the Board last week about special education services. Properly staffing SPED (Special Education) services is crucial to the child’s environment and educational development. The number of students per staff ratio for special services is also an issue as well as concerns regarding the staff we continue to lose. Kudos to this mom for speaking up and sharing the facts! We are sharing her words with you below:
If I could keep my nine year old in a school environment just like she is in today I would jump at the chance. Her teacher is experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate. The principal is supportive. We have bright and caring paras. Two of them have been working on RBT certification since last summer! The school’s speech therapist connected with my daughter on day one – this is highly unusual for someone to get work out of her as easily and quickly as she did. We have both caring and supportive Occupational and Physical therapists, too! When we get to school in the morning, kids from all over the building talk to my daughter which makes the environment feel very kind. Most importantly she is happy to be at school. When I drop her off in the morning she never looks back.
But this is her third teacher in three years. Three of her paras are new this year as is her Occupational Therapist. The mental health provider is also her third one in three years. Due to the timing of last year’s teacher resignation, we started this year without having a qualified teacher for several weeks.
The universal symbol for autism is a colorful puzzle piece because these children are complicated puzzles. A child with autism has amazing potential but it takes a long time to understand and break through their complexities. In kindergarten, my child was reading at very basic level. Last year, in second grade, it took six months until she showed her then new teacher she could read. Two thirds of the year wasted on figuring my child out. My point is how critical it is to keep these hard to find, quality teachers/therapists/paras, etc. in place.
While I know no decisions have been made and you are faced with horrendous choices pertaining to cutting costs I am here to ask you to NOT CUT Special Education services OR INCREASE WORKLOADS. Let’s take Speech Therapy as an example, although this example covers many positions. Speech Therapy is a service used across all student populations. From a child in a center program to a child in the Gifted and Talented program, a speech therapist can be needed. Now picture yourself teaching in a typical classroom. You have a student who has been identified as needing extra services. If he isn’t given the appropriate help he needs there is a good chance he will become frustrated and act out. A couple of his buddies may decide to join in on the fun and start acting inappropriately, too! Then the teacher gets frustrated and it shows in her teaching. She has to spend extra time with this situation – the rest of the class feels the tension and doesn’t get the quality of lesson they should and it continues to have a domino effect. This is just one of a million scenarios of what goes wrong when we overload our professionals.
I know final decisions have not been made but I have seen correspondence provided to staff that indicate caseloads may have significant increases. Again, using speech therapy as an example, but this covers many areas, I saw a document dated 12/12 which says a speech therapist may go from a ratio of 1 Speech Therapist to :30 kids to a ratio of 1 Speech therapist to 56 kids in the 2017-18 school year. This same document has similar increases for other Sped positions. Again, I know this isn’t final, but this should be unacceptable to all of you. This is not meeting a child’s needs-it is saying this is all we will give you regardless of your needs.
I would like to ask each one of you to contact a therapist in your area and talk to them. Ask them about their current case load and requirements. Learn exactly what they are up against. Then really pay attention to next year’s planning. We must avoid further burnout of these valuable people. It causes turnover and then we start all over again with our kids and my daughter is already playing catch up-she does not have any more time to waste.
Thank you for listening.