Parents, teachers 'shocked' by Seattle Public Schools' special education staff adjustments

Some potential changes in Washington’s largest school district are not sitting well with parents. There have been some proposed staff adjustments for special education programs at several schools within the Seattle Public School district.

In a statement, Seattle Public Schools said though enrollment has been low the past two years, it’s deciding, "not to lay off any special education educational staff, the District has 74 full-time special education personnel—more than is required to meet student need." The statement further reads, "At the same time, there are classrooms where students with IEPs are experiencing an unacceptable student-to-teacher ratio as high as 54 to 1. SPS’s staffing adjustments recognize the need to reallocate resources to better serve student needs."

District leaders said to help maximize services, "affected staff have been resourced to a position within their same building. Just seven certified staff and eight classified staff members are moving to different buildings within the region they are currently serving."

Officials said SPS makes annual staffing adjustments every October, and this year’s decision was necessary to prioritize support for students with disabilities. However parents who have children enrolled in special education programs said they are outraged by the decision.

"I’m still in a little bit of a disbelief that this is happening," said Aparna Prasad, whose 10-year-old son has Autism. "I’m disappointed and I’m also shocked beyond belief."

Prasad said her son is enrolled in a special education class and has an Individualized Education Program plan, known as an IEP. It’s a legal document under U.S. law for kids who have special needs to get resources and time specific to their learning needs. Prasad said just when her son was starting to recover from a year of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, she learned those "sudden" changes were coming to his classroom.

RELATED: Seattle Public Schools staff is 99% vaccinated, district says

"You’re basically not being able to provide students with these services and support that are contractually required. That’s what the IEP is, right?" said Prasad. "It is an ecosystem of support that these kids need in the classroom."

District leaders said, "SPS recognizes that educational staff moves can be disruptive to students, families, staff, and the school community. For this reason, SPS will provide support throughout the transition. These staffing adjustments are made with the singular focus on addressing the unmet needs of students with IEPs."

"I understand that their approach might have been to look at the numbers and that’s just one part of the equation. They actually need to understand, when it comes to special education, it’s about the students and what they need. It’s about the teachers and how they can be best supported to do their jobs," said Prasad.

"Special education services should be based on student needs, not based on numbers, if we’re truly providing the best special education services that we can in this district," said Jennifer Matter, teacher and president of Seattle Education Association.

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) hosted a rally, Wednesday, outside of district headquarters to demonstrate concerns regarding the staff adjustments. Association members were joined by students, parents, teachers staff and others from the community.

Matter said she is disappointed the association was not part of the conversation or decision-making on the staff adjustments.

"We have a moral, ethical responsibility, but also a legal responsibility to meet the needs of those students. There are minutes and services that are outlined in those IEPs. And, for us to be able to continue to serve those students—as they should be served, as they deserved to be—that takes thoughtful consideration. And there was none of that kind of dialogue," said Matter.

"As we move forward, we are committed to continuing to prioritize input from SEA, Seattle Council PTSA, Special Education PTSA and our families. Our priority is to deploy our resources to meet the needs of our special education students. We recognized that this is not easy. We are receiving emails from our families; we hear their stress, and we are committed to addressing the concerns," said Dr. Concie Pedroza, SPS associate superintendent.

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