Frederick County Public Schools continue to face serious challenges when recruiting for special education.
As of February 15, 43 special education assistants and 15 special education teachers were laid off in the system. With the start of the school year, when labor shortages were even greater, those numbers have declined.
“In late August, we found ourselves in a difficult situation,” said FCPS Director of Special Education Linda Chambers on January 31 at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Special Education of Citizens. “We’re getting better.”
But for employees on specialized FCPS programs, positions cannot be filled quickly enough.
“They’re exhausted to such an extent that they probably don’t even talk about it,” said Elaine Crawford, director of UniServ’s union representing SEIA. “Whatever happens, they still have to do the job.”
At school board meetings throughout the year, elected officials and district leaders expressed concern about the system’s plans for hiring and retaining special education workers.
This concern was heightened in December when the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had reached an agreement with the FCPS on the misuse of areas of isolation and restrictions on students with disabilities.
In response, the district seeks to reduce class size in its specialized programs, which will require even more applicants.
Of the more than 1,000 pedagogical certificates issued in Maryland last year, only 45 were for special education, Chambers told committee members at a SECAC meeting.
“Fewer teachers are moving to special education,” she said. “Not many are interested in our programs or our public individual day schools.”
She said FCPS is working on partnerships with local colleges and universities, including McDaniel and The Mount, that will encourage students to pursue special education and provide them with residencies at FCPS while they work toward certification.
At the same time, the school board recently began providing SEIA benefits, which interim head Mike Marco said at a recent board meeting that he would “go a long way” in addressing the issue. But only nine SEIA vacancies have been eliminated in the last month.
However, this does not necessarily mean that only nine people have been hired for this role.
“You hire two and one gets fired. You hire one and three retire, ”Chambers told SECAC. “It was the biggest fight.”
Experts are facing high levels of burnout, said Frederick County Teachers Association President Missy Dirks. In addition to their usual teaching responsibilities – lesson planning, instruction, parent-teacher meetings, and more – there are many state and federal requirements, including a huge number of documents that come to work.
Special education teachers for early careers earn about $ 50,000 a year in FCPS, depending on their degree and how long they have worked in the field.
Meanwhile, SEIA is starting to earn $ 16.10 an hour. Many work multiple jobs to support their families, Chambers said.
“In my opinion, they are not paid enough to do what they do,” said school board president Brad Young. “I think we also need to keep working to show the respect and gratitude we have for them … They need to feel that they are valued and respected for what they do.”
FCPS uses contractors to fill some vacancies for special education teachers and speech therapists. But it’s not a perfect solution, Dirks said. First, the district contracts with an agency rather than an individual, which means jobs can change frequently.
And contractors tend to “not invest so much in the school system” compared to FCPS staff, she said.
“When you are actually part of the school community, you are investing in the progress of not only the student but the entire FCPS community,” Dirks said.