SPED Paraeducators, Parents, and Teachers ask Jeffco to end “Right Sizing”

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Paraeducators, parents, and teachers attended the Jeffco Board of Education meeting last night to speak about the problems in Jeffco’s Center programs for students with special needs, particularly Jeffco’s staffing guidelines, high student to para ratios, and the many unfilled positions for SPED paraeducators as a result of low pay..  The group asked the board to immediately end the right sizing policy and to decrease the student to para ratio.

Angie Tacchia is a paraeducator who loves her work with students. She speaks for the nearly 500 paraeducators who are struggling to serve students adequately. “SPED staff are burning out at a rapid pace, injuries are increasing and students’ needs are not appropriately supported academically and behaviorally as specified in IEP requirements. All of these problems are directly related to inadequate staffing. As for my program, we are two paraeducators short since the beginning of the school year.”

 

Lorri Avery, a parent leader of JAASD (Jeffco Association of ASD Parents), stood with JESPA paraeducators to question Jeffco’s special education staffing guidelines. Jeffco’s document “Guiding Principles for Allocations of Special Education Staff 2019-2020” refers to rightsizing in the last section of the document when referring to paraeducators:

Center Program para-educator allocations will be as follows*:
o SED (Elementary) 1.5 FTE per program
o SSN II (Elementary) 1.5 FTE per program
o SSN III (all levels) 1:3 adult to student ratio (including teacher).
No program shall have less than a base of 2 paraprofessionals.
o ASD (Elementary) 1:2 adult to student ratio (including teacher)
o DHH+ 1:2 adult to student ratio (including teacher)
*Center program para educators are rightsized twice annually in September and January to match these guidelines.

Ms. Avery explains, “What this means is if a student in a center program left after the start of the year; let’s say October 1st- the district reduces the number of paras in that center program. If a new student starts October 10th the district waits until January to replace this position. As a result of this policy, the center program is left without proper staffing for three months! I have personally witnessed this rightsizing policy in action for the five years I have been a parent of a center program child. It is unsafe, it is negatively affecting the adult relationships in the classrooms, and it does not provide an appropriate education for the students. I actually observed this exact scenario just last October when I was visiting the class my daughter was placed in this year. This was a two-hour observation. The class had three adults, one of whom was a 1:1 para. This left the other two adults (one para and the teacher) responsible for the remaining 10 students.”

Paraeducator Mary Bergren, a paraeducator with 17 years of experience spoke as well, saying, “I have been a Paraeducator for 17 years.  I have seen the adult to student ratio change from a one to two ratio to a one to three.  Now I see the placement of students with severe behavior issues into classrooms with this ratio. We are unable to serve the IEP requirements of all the students and to keep these students safe. In prior years when a student has deemed a danger to staff and students they were placed in a district program that suited the student’s needs.  Why is this no longer an option or at the very least why aren’t we being given the appropriate authorized staff?  The funding is there for staffing.  Our classroom alone has had two paraeducators each with up to 20 years of experience leave.  Can we afford to continue to lose skilled, quality staff and not meet the needs of the students?”

So, with already low staffing levels and terrible ratios, what is Jeffco doing to address this problem.  The current guidelines in place are not working.  “The other Jeffco staffing policy which negatively affects SSN programs was to arbitrarily change the staff-to-student ratio from 2:1 to 3:1.  Our JAASD parent group was told at a meeting about 18 months ago by a former cabinet member that this reduction in staffing was implemented because the district needed money elsewhere and this is where it was taken from. He also added that it was known that the change was not going well. Remember, this is a SIGNIFICANT SPECIAL NEEDS center program. Jeffco has created a crisis in its center programs.  The staffing ratio is not only unsafe, but it also denies students the free, appropriate public education to which they are legally entitled,” Avery stated. 
We are fortunate that Ms. Avery is a dedicated parent and approached the JESPA office to question staffing guidelines.  She was told that JESPA was behind the guidelines.  To the contrary, JESPA is taking the lead for our students and demanding an end to this policy.
 
 

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