Measures needed to ensure quality special education teacher training

While PAUSD Special Education does an admirable job supporting students with disabilities from early childhood through high school, The Campanile thinks administrators must increase efforts to ensure greater communication with teachers and quality of teacher-training to promote success for these students in high school and beyond.

PAUSD’s special education program has proven itself to be among the top in the state. In the 2021-22 school year, 15.33% of California students with disabilities met ELA standards and 3.9% met math standards. On the other hand, 90.71% of PAUSD students with disabilities meet ELA standards and 37.5% meet math standards — a noteworthy contrast that clearly illustrates the program’s recent success.

In addition, with robust programs such as pre-school intervention, the FUTURES program and the Project SEARCH vocational Internship Program, PAUSD’s special education program is actively preparing its students for post-secondary opportunities.

Yet while PAUSD has demonstrated glimpses of excellence in special education instruction, there are still concerns that prevent the program from truly fulfilling the PAUSD Promise on Special Education and Inclusion, which calls for high-quality programs and services in a regular, non-separated educational environment. 

While a 2016 professional review conducted by law firm Thomas Hehir & Associates, PAUSD students with disabilities experienced higher than average rates of inclusion, and their performance was comparable to that of students without disabilities in the rest of California, the same review found some troubling patterns. Hehir and Associates found that special education parents frequently lacked information about policies, practices and procedures related to accommodations and special education, resulting in a large portion of parents distrusting the district.

And transparency of information remains a key concern in PAUSD special education. Even between administrators and teachers, poor communication inders the department’s ability to uphold the PAUSD Promise. 

Two anonymous special education teachers told The Campanile that the department experienced unclear guidance from administrators over if and when IEP meetings should be held. Moreover, many teachers were unaware that they could receive compensation for the dozens of hours they spend on these meetings per semester.

It is imperative that communication between administrators and teachers is thorough and clear. When teachers do not have a complete understanding of their expectations, they can not accurately fulfill their responsibilities.

At the end of the day, how well teachers can perform their jobs directly translates to the success of the students. 

When special education teachers are forced to hold IEP meetings during class time, PAUSD does not mandate substitute teachers to be state-certified. Unlike general education students, special education students have specific, unique needs that require individual attention. While there are understandably many challenges, The Campanile implores PAUSD to prioritize training and hiring qualified substitutes.

While PAUSD frequently prides itself on its ability to save money, special education is not a department that can afford to operate on tight budgets. To cut costs in special education means to place the district’s most vulnerable students at even greater risk. 

The Campanile recognizes the strides PAUSD has made in advancing special education services for students. But the district, if it wants to continue as a leader of special education in the state, must play its role in promoting strong communication and high-quality teacher and substitute  training to ensure the PAUSD Promise of Inclusion for all students is met.