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Colorado Springs schools work to fill special education void

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — With special education happening mostly online this year, some parents and educators reached out to KRDO concerned that students with special needs are falling through the cracks. 

Academy District 20 began the year with two special education staff members for all of the district’s K-8 grade online learning programs. 

“The Journey K-8 program has about 180 special ed students and therefore needs about nine staff members to carry that caseload,” said Allison Cortez, the spokesperson for ASD20. “We are now fully staffed, but the first few weeks of school we were still having to staff some of those positions.”

The Colorado Department of Education acknowledges a special education staffing shortage is an issue across the state. The special education void in District 20 was filled pretty quickly. But it’s likely a problem other districts are dealing with too. COVID-19 could be widening the gap as some school staff sit this year out.

“In Colorado, we don’t have any mandated ratios,” said Paul Foster, the State Director of Special Education. “So there’s nothing that says you have to have a teacher or special services provider per number of [special education] students.”

KRDO asked Foster if he thinks there should be a mandated ratio.

“The state board of education really sets our policy,” Foster said. “And that would really be something that they would need to take up.”

There is added worry that special education students aren’t on track to meet their Individualized Education Programs, also called IEPs. The plans require a certain amount of service hours unique to each special education student. Federal law requires IEPs to be met.

“There is concern about the implementation of IEPs in the current setting we’re in,” Foster said. "It's a huge challenge because the very nature of a child needing an IEP - an Individualized Education Plan - is that they need specialized instruction that's not widely available to them in other settings."

Academy School District 20 says it is working on creative solutions and collaborating with other districts to make sure IEPs will be followed.

“We are confident that those hours are either being met or going to be met,” Cortez said. “If we had some folks that fell a little behind, we will get them caught up.”

The state does not provide direct oversight of Individualized Education Plans. The Colorado Department of Education will only get involved in dire circumstances if parents, students, and schools can’t come to a solution on their own.

Colorado Springs / Education / News / State & Regional News / Video

Lauren Barnas

Comments

3 Comments

  1. “In Colorado, we don’t have any mandated ratios,” said Paul Foster, the State Director of Special Education. “So there’s nothing that says you have to have a teacher or special services provider per number of [special education] students.”

    KRDO asked Foster if he thinks there should be a mandated ratio.

    “The state board of education really sets our policy,” Foster said. “And that would really be something that they would need to take up.”

    So the State Director of Special Education for Colorado knows that there is no ratio of special education teachers to special education students, but doesn’t think this is a topic to voice for concern? Then when further inquired by KRDO he provides a textbook definition response of how a politician passes the buck to the State Board of Education. Doesn’t he work for them? Isn’t that his job to advise and make recommendations? This isn’t an unreasonable or expectation. Do your job.

    Your getting paid a lions share of the tax revenue generated for the school system, to make sure the teachers, students, and schools all have what they need and you are failing at this task. You collecting a salary and not adequately doing your job is not helping the teachers, students, and the schools.

    Perhaps since he isn’t doing his job, they should remove his position, then repurpose this positions salary to funding for more special education teachers. Since he can’t fix it and it is more of a state board of educations job to set up this policy, this seems the best solution he presented the public with when he conducted this interview.

  2. There are many good special education teachers out there that are not employed because of politics in the public school system. Many have gone to private/charter schools to teach or changed careers.

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