Special Education: Challenges & Changes
Since PPS shifted to a distance learning model after closing schools on March 13th, many difficulties have arisen for educators, students, and families across Portland. Perhaps some of the greatest challenges have come to our tireless Special Education teachers and service providers. Special Education staff have been overwhelmed with a constantly shifting barrage of work tasks from both the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the Special Education department in PPS. Much of the work has been redundant tracking and documenting of student information. Directives from district leaders have either lacked clear guidance for establishing priorities or conflicted with directives from supervisors at the Special Education department and their schools.
PAT leadership hosted a large meeting with SpEd PAT reps to discuss these problems and develop a plan of action. We wanted to pressure the District to address these issues so educators could focus their limited time and resources on connecting with kids, making sure they are safe, and delivering education and services for each individual student as best they can during this crisis.
A smaller group of approximately 10 PAT reps from SpEd, joined by PAT leadership and staff, met with the District two weeks ago to present our concerns and some essential ideas for change. We are happy to report that we have won some significant changes to work expectations and procedures for SpEd educators. These changes include the following:
- Redundant tracking systems will be phased out, now to be left to the discretion of the educator
- All building meetings will be optional and at the discretion of the educator, based on how attendance would affect their weekly workload
- SpEd program administrators will commit to working with the educator on priorities, especially if the member notifies them that they anticipate going beyond their weekly 25 or 20 hours of work
- The District has agreed to streamline communications to staff and building administrators by sending one communication each week, the “Special Education Newsflash”
PAT is still seeking to get agreement from the District on compensation for members that end up working beyond their daily and weekly expected hours to participate in IEP or Distance Learning Plan meetings (a document required by ODE when the IEP team determines that an IEP cannot be met and needs to be amended).
Lastly, we were happy to hear the Director of SpEd, Mary Mertz, tell us verbally that the department trusts that all SpEd educators and service providers are doing the best they can with the difficulties of adapting to distance learning. As such, Mertz says, the department will not use anything related to educators’ delivery of services and instruction as data in future evaluations. PAT remains committed to getting this understanding as part of a larger agreement that covers all of our members during this period.