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New Board of Education rule could prove problematic for special education instructors, educator says

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 28, 2018 at 9:33 PM

Education experts say the shortage of special education teachers is a big problem in some of the most rural areas of East Tennessee.

And some educators believe a newly proposed mandate from the Tennessee State Board of Education could create more problems hiring and retaining special education teachers in the midst of this shortage.

The proposed rule, which could be a legislative item in 2019, asks that school districts notify the parents of a child with a disability at least 10 days before an individualized education program, or IEP, meeting to ensure that a parent will have an opportunity to attend. If the district prepares a draft IEP prior to this meeting, a copy will be provided to the parent of the child at least 24 hours before the scheduled time.

Some from the Professional Educators of Tennessee believe requiring a draft for every IEP meeting could cause unnecessary strain on special education teachers, many of whom are already dealing with a lot of paperwork.

“Parents should be able to request a copy of any draft documents prior to an IEP team meeting. However, it is critical to be reminded that not all IEP team members are staffed at the same school, and it may be impossible for them to convene with the other IEP team members to collaborate on the draft 24 hours prior to the meeting. This creates twice the work for teachers,” J.C. Bowman, executive director of the organization, wrote in a recent editorial.

“If we continue to overwhelm special education teachers when we already have a special education teacher shortage, recruitment and retention challenges will only escalate,” he added.

But some educators don’t believe the proposed rule could cause as much of a problem as other concerns, as long as the drafts are constructed in a mindful way.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem,” said Pam Mims, an associate professor of special education and associate dean of grants at the East Tennessee State University College of Education. “You can get rid of a lot of these concerns when there's a lot of communication going on.

“It could be seen as a paperwork burden except that, if it is used as a tool for planning the right way, it can help reduce that feeling of, ‘I’m just pushing paper.’”

Mims, who has conducted research and surveys on attrition rates in special education and once taught middle schoolers with multiple disabilities and autism, said she believes the biggest problems facing the field have to do with lack of resources and funding, particularly in rural areas; lack of understanding from higher-ups in administrations about what these teachers do; and, at times, a lack of specialized professional development for special education teachers.

Mims said she “didn’t want to dismiss the concerns” some state educators have about the proposed rule, but she said other things are at play when talking about the problems faced by special education instructors in Tennessee.

“In our data analysis, we ask (special education teachers) if they received professional development and which was the least and most helpful,” Mims said. “We’re just now analyzing that data, but we know from other surveys that many aren’t being provided long-term professional development in areas they feel are relevant.

“School systems need to remind teachers that there is a purpose to this draft document, but it could be used as a valuable part of the process in planning that IEP,” she added. “It is worth it if it used the right way.”

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