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Elk Grove, CA: SPED support removed from classrooms due to teacher shortage

Sept 10, 2022, Sacramento Bee: Teacher shortage leads Elk Grove Unified to shake up special ed program, worrying parents https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/education/article265091209.html
Parents and teachers are upset with Elk Grove Unified School District over a sudden change in special education programs that separated dozens of specialists from students who trusted them.

The shakeup, which unfolded after the start of the school year, worries families who built relationships with the district’s inclusion specialists. They’re a group of educators who can provide one-on-one help in traditional classrooms for students with mild to severe learning disabilities, such as autism. They work side-by-side with students and become attuned to a child’s social and emotional needs.

“My older son had so much success with the inclusion program that I fought for my younger son to be in general education as well,” said Anissa Wallace, an Elk Grove parent who is concerned the changes will set back her 7-year-old son. “The inclusion program changed his life.”

The change is related to a nationwide teacher shortage with the district moving the inclusion specialists to other classrooms with hard-to-fill positions. They’re being assigned to special education classrooms and learning centers where they can support more students with disabilities.
The district in a written statement said assigning the teachers to other support roles “will more effectively meet the needs of our students.”

District officials acknowledged the change was abrupt.

“The speed and timing of this change didn’t offer space to prepare people,” said district spokeswoman Xanthi Soriano.

Inclusion specialists and the families they supported said the district’s assurances did not comfort them.

“I have a hard time believing they will get the same level of help and attention,” said Wallace, the mother with two sons in the program. “I don’t see how they would, as a parent.”

TEACHERS WORRIED ABOUT THEIR STUDENTS

One Elk Grove Unified inclusion specialist, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of professional retaliation, began the school year assisting students in their classrooms. The educator called the move unfair to children who no longer will receive individual attention in a general classroom.

“There are many services that are available to these (special education) students in a general ed class setting,” the inclusion specialist said. “Now it’s up to a (classroom) teacher or staff member who is unfamiliar with their learning needs to help them.”

General education teachers in traditional classrooms said they were worried about the change, too. They said the changes could undermine students’ so-called individual education plans and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures appropriate special education is provided to all children in need.

“Students will find themselves unsupported,” said a teacher who spoke to The Sacramento Bee on the condition of anonymity because they feared professional retaliation. “Sometimes they have behavior blowouts, and there is an inclusion specialist who can deescalate that student and make sure it doesn’t happen again. There may be restroom (breaks), feeding involved…basic needs. Some staff will not be able to navigate or cope with them.”

ELK GROVE PARENTS TO GO SCHOOL BOARD

Parents and teachers spoke at the Elk Grove Unified school board meeting on Tuesday, asking the district for more transparency and some called on the district to reverse their decision.

The Elk Grove Unified school board will revisit the issue in a future meeting. The date is yet to be finalized.

It sent a letter to parents Aug. 29 that said it “will be monitoring the assignments and transition of teachers and providing additional support to specific sites or situations, as needed.”

Rick Stancil, president of the Elk Grove Education Association, said the union was aware of the administration’s plan but did not have power to halt it. He said the union disagreed “with the timing of the decision”

“We know that inclusive education is a vital program within the district, and this change is a disruption in the lives of staff, students, and families. We understand why the district chose to make this decision; however, we knew last year that staffing our Special Education positions was a challenge. Changes in staffing should have been made before the start of a school year, not afterwards,” he said in a written statement.

Elk Grove Unified School District reassigned a group of educators who support students with learning disabilities after the start of the 2022-23 school year, upsetting families who built relationships with the inclusion specialists. PAUL KITAGAKI JR. pkitagaki@sacbee.com