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Osceola County, FL: Teacher attacked by special needs students; lack of support blamed

Mar 1, 2023, WFTV, Orlando, FL: Osceola County teacher calls for district to rethink how it deals with special needs students

An Osceola County teacher says a 19-year-old student attacked him in January, and he blames staffing shortages for putting teachers and students at risk.

“I’m here to speak up so this doesn’t happen to someone else,” said Daniel Morris, an ESE Transition teacher at Tohopekaliga High School.

His story prompted Osceola County Schools to take a closer look at how our schools are handling students with special needs.

“I remember thinking that I might not make it home to my wife,” he said.

Morris told school board members that he survived the attack after another teacher ran into help, but he says that the student’s learning plan called for more individualized attention, something he did not receive on that day.

“Due to the ever-present staffing issues throughout the district, the student was not provided with their special needs assistant as stated in their IEP,” Morris said.

Attorney Michael Dolce said federal law guarantees FAPE, the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education, and individualized learning plans, known as IEPs, are put into place to ensure that happens for students with special needs. They often call for paraprofessional support.

“Many students who fall into the ESE category need to have adults within reach, oftentimes one-on-one,” Dolce said.

But staffing shortages complicate this. Osceola County’s website shows they have at least 11 ESE teacher vacancies and 52 vacancies for paraprofessionals. Department of Education data shows across the state that 30 percent of all vacancies were for ESE teachers….

A school board member said on top of the shortage, part of the problem is that there are so many ESE students in Osceola County that properly placing them has become a logistical nightmare. .


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