TOEPKA (KSNT) – There are more than 65,000 special education students in the state of Kansas, 2,000 in USD 501. It’s a number that school districts across the state struggle with when trying to find educators to teach these students. Teachers say there aren’t enough of them to go around.
“It gets hard, I would say when I end up getting 20 kids on my case load it becomes a lot more challenging,” says special education teacher Rose Perkins. She says it’s a challenge because “when it adds up to that many it’s harder to meet each of their needs.”
Which is why you’ll find in school districts, like 501, there are many versions of how a special education teacher works.
Maggie Corcoran, a teacher at Topeka west, co-teaches a class of 35 mixed general and special education students with another teacher. She says “having two teachers in there, that divides your ratio up and allows me that freedom,” to have more one on one interaction with all of her students.
Judy Gregar doesn’t have that option, she has been teaching special education for 32 years and still struggles to balance it all. “I’d loved to be able to see that I can push into the classroom more, as opposed to being in the resource.”
The parents of these children see that lack of adequate staff too.
“We weren’t happy at first with the way things were,” says Sara Cloud. She and her husband Pat say they had several meetings pushing and advocating for what their child needs, “finally we all got on the same page and started to work together as a team.
District officials say they hope to improve the shortage with special education teachers by reaching out to universities and getting future teachers more exposure to special education. For right now, 501 is working around the shortage of experienced teachers by asking retirees to come back at least temporarily. They also ask some teachers who haven’t specialized in working with special needs children, but are currently unemployed, to consider trying it for a year.