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Baltimore: "SPED teachers at "breaking point"; 'We are not psychologists'

Dec 19, 2019, Baltimore Sun: Howard County [MD] special education teachers warn they and the system are reaching a breaking point At a Howard County Board of Education meeting Nov. 7, four special education staff members sounded an alarm, warning that special educators in public schools are reaching a breaking point because of understaffing and underfunding by the county. At times with tears in their eyes, the special education staff members gave accounts of what they face each day, saying they spend most of their time running from one student crisis to the next. “I’m a crisis interventionist all day; that’s really all I do. The days I actually just teach are far and in between,” said Lauren Williams, a fourth-year special education teacher at Guilford Elementary School in Columbia, in a December interview…. Nearly 10% of Howard students — or 5,728 out of the overall 58,000 — were identified as special education students in the 2018-19 academic year, according to state education census data. The figure represents students 3 to 21 years old…. In last year’s operating budget, Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano recommended $120.5 million for special education, looking to add nearly 150 special education positions across the school system. The positions included teachers, paraeducators, occupational therapists and speech pathologists. The school board, however, did not add the positions and trimmed the sought funding for special education to $115 million. “I agree with the staff who spoke at the Board of Education meeting that we need to invest more resources in order to fully take care of our children,” Martirano said in a statement Dec. 13…. In Karen Filippelli’s 17 years at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, she has seen the rise of students requiring special education services. “At the high school level, the needs keep getting greater and the staff does not [grow],” said Filippelli, a special education paraeducator. She also testified before the board Nov. 7. More staffing is needed, she said, to help deal with student behaviors and the low skills that students are walking into the front door with, including reading at a sixth-grade level and lacking math skills…. At Hammond Middle, there’s not enough training, people, support or time in a day, she added. Hammond Middle’s psychologist is in the school three days a week and, while there are two guidance counselors, they assist with class coverage and so when crises happen in a classroom, it falls onto the teachers and support staff in the room. “I think because we are not psychologists, it gets to be really frustrating we cannot provide the depth of support a child needs to get them back in the classroom,” Jacobson said…. Last year, a mandatory session focused on supporting students with behavioral needs was held for all of the system’s special education staff. A similar training was replicated in September….


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