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.