Dear Hillsborough School Board Members and Superintendent Elia,
The STatewide Advocacy Network on Disabilities would like to encourage you to support ESE teachers in this district by retaining planning time for these teachers in order to provide a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities. Recent decisions by this board will have a negative impact on students and the recruitment/retention of ESE teachers. Please consider the following:
The substitution of an IEP Assistant in the classroom instead of a Highly Qualified Teacher as defined by No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for the amount of predicted time necessary to conduct multiple IEPs and collaborative planning times will lead to violations of those Acts. STAND is deeply concerned that ESE students will have less quality instructional time while under the watch of an IEP Assistant than the certified, talented teachers this county possesses.
There is the additional concern that a lesser-qualified individual will now be in charge of the procedural rights of parents – items such as parent notification, prior written notice, and gathering documentation specific to the IEP process. STAND strongly disagrees that the current recommended training is sufficient to educate IEP Assistants on IDEA requirements. This too will lead to further non-compliance, impaired parental rights, and potential loss of federal dollars to our students who need support the most.
For years, multiple committees and task forces, including the Superintendent’s ESE Advisory Council have maintained Teacher Recruitment/ Retention subcommittees with an ongoing concern for this issue. STAND foresees that this problem will escalate with the recent decision by HCSB to decrease planning time and substitute unqualified instructors in the classroom.
While we support accountability in spending, we also recognize integrity in the classroom cannot be lost due to the bottom line. STAND encourages you to work with the specialized needs of ESE teachers, listen to their concerns and recommendations, and take note of the potential compliance issues you are creating with your recent decisions to create an IEP Assistant, and reduce planning time.
One final note, we would like to remind district administrators that teachers are federally protected under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 regarding their ability to advocate for students with disabilities. I am certain you would agree that discouraging their advocacy (presage of job transfer or demotion) in any way would be inappropriate.
Cc: Valdez, Otero, Grego, Hamilton, Tye, Gilbert, Clements, High school principals