More than 130 licensed emergency teachers have filled in as special education teachers in Oregon this year, defaulting thousands of students and possibly violating federal law.
This law, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, ensures that children with disabilities receive an appropriate general education equal to their peers without disabilities, including equal study time and access to qualified teachers.
But an emergency teacher in Oregon does not have to meet the high standards required by federal law for special education teachers, who must have a bachelor’s degree and full state certification to teach special education, or be in the process of earning certification while enrolling in an education degree program. own.
The state is responsible for ensuring respect for the law. But Oregon education officials seem to be shirking that responsibility.
Officials with the Oregon Department of Education and the Teacher Standards and Practice Commission, which licenses teachers in the state, said they don’t know if the 131 emergency special education teachers working in schools are on track for full licensing, the Oregon Capital Chronicle found. In a joint statement, the administration and the commission said that school and district principals are responsible for ensuring that teachers are qualified. But the law says that state education agencies must establish and maintain qualifications to ensure that teachers are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained, and that they have the knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities.
Special education teachers in Oregon require a degree and appropriate training. Emergency teachers don’t need either. They are meant to fill in the gaps when administrators cannot find a fully licensed teacher. And the state cannot waive special education requirements in an emergency, the law says.
The state has relied more on emergency licensed teachers since COVID, and Capital Chronicle reported in August. The most recent public records I obtained focus on licensed emergency teachers who are employed as special education teachers. They showed that the 131 emergency trainers who teach students with special needs represent a quarter of all emergency teachers working in schools.
The state has 2,005 full-time special education teachers assisted by 23,000 support staff. Most support staff are not required to have special training, and they are not supposed to replace licensed special education teachers.
With 80,000 students with disabilities in Oregon, it is likely that thousands of students with disabilities will not have access to qualified teachers on an equal basis with their peers without disabilities.
Students pay the price.
“High-quality teacher preparation is important for all students, but doubly important for students with special needs,” said Jake Cornette, executive director and CEO of Disability Rights Oregon. “Teachers who are not prepared are two to three times more likely to leave the classroom. This kind of high teacher turnover rate among private teachers exacerbates teacher shortages.”
Leaving children with greater needs with teachers who are less accredited and less trained has contributed to achievement gaps. About 70% of fourth and eighth grade students with disabilities in Oregon scored “below basic” in reading on the most recent national assessment of educational progress, the nation’s report card.
At a public hearing of the state Senate Education Committee in February, parents testified in support of a legislative proposal to ensure students with disabilities get the same time in class as their peers. Portland mom Sarah Schultz told lawmakers her autistic son attended two different public schools in Portland and rarely spent time with a certified special education teacher. At Buckman Elementary, she said, paramedics would check on him while he spent hours alone in a classroom on an iPad watching YouTube videos. She said school staff at Pioneer, an alternative school in Portland for students with disabilities and special needs, often restrained him and kept him isolated.
“He would spend most of his days outside the classroom with staff, not a qualified teacher,” she said. Schultz decided to switch to part-time work so that she could homeschool her son after his experiences at both schools.
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Low-income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners are more likely to be taught by teachers who are not qualified, which negatively affects achievement, according to the Institute for Learning Policy, a research and advocacy group based in Palo Alto, California.
The state is responsible for ensuring the quality of education for all students. However, state officials have refused to take responsibility for the large number of licensed emergency teachers working in special education classes.
Officials with the Oregon Department of Education and the Teacher Standards and Practice Commission said Tuesday via email and during a phone interview that they are not responsible for ensuring that licensed emergency teachers are qualified to teach special education or are on the path to certification. After questions from the Capital Chronicle, officials from the administration and the commission issued a statement late Wednesday saying that principals are responsible.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs declined to comment, telling the Capital Chronicle that the agency will discuss the issue with Oregon administrators.
Lack of teachers
Districts that rely on emergency teachers to staff special education classes say they can’t find enough licensed teachers, and that emergency teachers are key to maintaining special education classes and programs so they can provide students with equal time in class.
“The Clackamas (Educational Services District), like many other ESDs and school districts, has had a challenge hiring licensed special education teachers,” said Larry Dedmore, superintendent, in an email. It serves 10 school districts in the South Portland area and has 34 licensed special education teachers.
For at least 25 years, Oregon schools have suffered from a shortage of licensed special education teachers, according to a 2021 report from the Oregon Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. Nationally, special education teachers have a 46% higher turnover rate than other teachers, largely due to a lack of administrative support, lack of collaboration and excessive paperwork, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The number of licensed emergency teachers working in Oregon schools since the start of the pandemic has doubled from more than 230 during the 2019-20 school year to more than 520 today, according to data from the standards committee. and three times as many emergency teachers in Oregon teaching special education since the 2019-20 school year.
Other countries have the same employment problems.
In October, I sent Valerie Williams, director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the US Department of Education note To all state special education administrators to remind them to follow federal law.
“Based on media reports and discussions with states and advocates, the Office of Special Education Programs is aware that some states currently have policies and procedures that may not be consistent with (the law’s) requirements,” she wrote.
Department officials declined to respond to questions from the Capitol Chronicle about whether Oregon was breaking the law. A spokesperson for the department said the department would contact state education officials before discussing any violations.
It is unclear who is responsible in Oregon.
An Oregon Department of Education official told the Capital Chronicle that it reports on the state’s implementation of the Federal Disability Rights Act to the federal government and provides details about the distribution to counties of more than $134 million in annual federal funds, but is not responsible for ensuring proper credentials.
“In Oregon, teacher licensure falls under the jurisdiction of the Teacher Standards and Practice Commission,” Mark Siegel, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said in an email.
On the Teacher Standards and Practices Committee, Principal Anthony Rozelles said it determines whether candidates meet emergency licensure requirements — not if they are highly qualified or on track to obtain certification to teach special education, as defined by the Disability Act.
He said, “If you want to know how the license meets or does not meet the requirements of (the law), you should contact the ODE, because it is their assurance that they make in their annual reports to the feds.”
Special education has been neglected for decades
Dedmore, superintendent for the Clackamas Education Service District, said emergency teachers are helping to keep students with special needs in school.
“We have been successful in keeping all of our special education classes operating in person full-time throughout this school year, thanks to the great teamwork and flexibility demonstrated by our teachers, educational assistants, and other classroom professionals,” he said.
According to Shirley Skidmore, district communications director, the six district licensed emergency teachers have bachelor’s degrees and are working toward qualifying for a special education license.
“Most of them work as classroom teachers with training and support from the Special Education Department,” Skidmore wrote.
But state Sen. Sarah Gelser Bloen, D-Corvallis, who is campaigning to pass legislation to protect the education of students with disabilities, said if the state was doing its jobs, it wouldn’t decide on equal classroom time zones and guarantee students in private schools. Education It has qualified teachers.
“This is not a problem that appeared overnight,” she said. “Ignoring special education for decades has created this problem.”
To help hire and retain teachers, the Legislature in February 2022 appropriated nearly $100 million for schools to spend on replacements and educational assistants for training costs through January 2024 following a working group convened by Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland. Recently suggested legislation To help expand the teacher workforce, including in special education. Senate Bill 283 It would set state minimum salaries for teachers, including special education instructors, that would be 20% higher than general education teachers. It will also launch a public relations campaign to attract special education teachers and simplify some of the routines.
The bill is in the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which decides on the budget.
“I hope we can find the dollars to fully fund every part of this bill,” Dembrow said in his weekly newsletter.
Emergency teachers are not trained in special education
A licensed emergency teacher in Oregon may hold a full-time role in one school in one subject area for up to one year. They are not required to have a bachelor’s degree or any training, and the district that hires them needs to prove that they struggled to find a fully licensed teacher for the position.
Under federal law, special education teachers must be “highly qualified.” A fully certified special education instructor must have either a private teacher license or a teaching license with a special education endorsement, which can only be granted by the Teacher Standards and Practice Commission. Both require teaching degrees from a preparatory program. Teachers cannot obtain an emergency teaching license to teach special education.
Teaching assistants and teaching assistants who are “appropriately trained and supervised, in accordance with state law, regulations, or written policy” may assist in special education services, according to federal law, but are not considered highly qualified.