The teachers’ union in Howard County, Maryland, filed a grievance with the school board last month, saying that under-staffing and under-funding have created a situation where educators, primarily special education teachers, miss planning and lunch periods too often and that the county’s most vulnerable students are at risk, the Baltimore Sun reports.
A hearing before Superintendent Michael Martirano and the school board about the class-action grievance, which was signed by 70 teachers from 33 of the district’s 77 schools, is expected later this month. In the meantime, though, the teachers’ union has encouraged educators in the district to write letters to the board and the Howard County Council to make them aware of the extent of the risk being introduced by the situation.
“We are very, very worried this problem can get worse,” the Sun quoted Joshua Guy Lenes, a union representative, as saying. “I hope we can highlight the gravity of this issue.”
The gravity is explained in the grievance itself, which says educators, “who are mostly special educators, have missed their contractually required planning and lunch due to the extreme and emergent daily demands at their schools. … Educators across our school system do not receive their required planning and lunch time several days per week, the impact of which is consequently felt by the most vulnerable children in our school system.”
In November, special educators addressed the school board, telling them about the “crisis” in special education. During a school day, special educators respond to student crises, attend and lead meetings that determine individualized plans for students with special needs, and manage other responsibilities, the grievance states. General educators also serve special education students and are “experiencing the downstream impacts of the school system’s crisis in special education.”
With all those official duties, the unmet need is hard to miss—the clear need for time to take care of their own health and develop more effective plans for students who benefit from their precise skills and the hard work they put into their days.
An obvious solution would be to increase support staff levels. Some of the additional and non-teaching-related duties special educators are being required to do at their schools could then be absorbed. In addition, general education teachers would not be needed to fill special education roles and could instead focus more time on their own teaching responsibilities. But too often in schools, the connection between district leadership and classroom teachers is missing. Howard County can lead the way by improving this situation and giving teachers the time they need to develop positive lessons for vulnerable students.
Unfortunately, the situation reflects a broader trend in which administrators neither recognize nor provide solutions for teachers’ needs. Writes author and educator Peter DeWitt: “There are too many school districts with a major disconnection between the district office and building level leaders. 2020 needs to be the year when more district offices find a balance between the top-down initiatives that take place, and creating more space to engage in dialogue with building leaders and teachers. School districts will likely never improve if people are constantly told what to do and not given the opportunity to share the creative side that probably got them hired in the first place.”