In the Oakland School District almost half of the teacher vacancies in February were for special education teachers. While there may not be the same number of vacancies in Santa Cruz, it does raise an important issue.
Federal and California state law require that all schools receiving federal funds – this includes public, private or charter – educate students regardless of whether they have a learning disability. Schools cannot discriminate or refuse access because of a disability. Even with these laws in place, staffing vacancies make it much harder to find special education services.
Federal legislation requires that schools dedicate resources to educating students with special needs. A school may thus set aside funding for positions, but if they do not receive qualified candidates they can sit open. This is what has happened in Oakland.
KQED reported that as a result, some special education teachers have seen their caseloads double. As many as 28 students can be assigned to one teacher under California state law. Some teachers have also been left to juggle more students without the support of a special education teacher’s aide. The affected districts are starting to recruit early for next year to avoid a similar situation. Still this has left some students without needed help.
Children suffer in these circumstances especially when they no longer get one-on-one attention to help with reading or math. A child may then fall further and further behind in a main classroom.
Schools can make mistakes and students who do not receive services have rights. Asking to be compensated for missed time is one remedy. Parents may need to watch closely to ensure that school calculations are accurate, however.
When you have concerns or questions about appropriate services, a special education lawyer can explain the complicated laws and provide assistance.