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Special education providers feeling buried by paperwork

Special education teachers and administrators are commonly finding themselves caught in a whirlwind of processes and paperwork, often taking precedence over serving their high-needs students.  

“The focus for accountability coming from the state is on paperwork, not results of our students with disabilities,” Jamie Nord, executive director at St. Croix River Education District explained to the House Education Policy Committee Tuesday.  

During an informational overview on the delivery of special education services, Nord, along with Nicole Woodward, the district’s director of special education, highlighted what education delivery looks like from the perspective of the administrators and teachers that serve high-needs students, noting some challenges and possible solutions.

Special education is delivered to kids through tailor-made plans. When a student demonstrates a need for special services there’s a process of intervention and assessment. Then there’s the development of an individualized education program, the implementation of services and the reevaluation of the program and outcomes.

The federal requirements, paired with even stricter state guidelines, amount to a complicated process that involves a lot of people, planning and a tremendous amount of paperwork.

Nord said that documentation serves a valuable purpose by providing procedural safeguards for students with disabilities. But, she said the level of scrutiny it’s facing from the Department of Education exceeds its value, and the time educators spend on paperwork could be much better spent working with students.

“I would like to point out that there is no other facet in public education of which educational practitioners, teachers, are asked to create a document that can withstand a legal challenge,” she said. “Teachers should teach, they are not attorneys and shouldn’t be spending their valuable time laboring over documentation in an effort to meet such high legal standards when we have students with disabilities that desperately need our high-quality instruction.”

Heather Matthews, a special education resource teacher from the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District, reiterated the challenges, noting that the documentation requirements have exponentially increased over the past 10 to 15 years. They not only affect the amount of time she’s able to spend providing services, but also put undue stress on teachers and is driving them away from the profession.

Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton), a media specialist at Robbinsdale Area Schools, said this issue has been a top concern.

“When I took this new role as a legislator, some of the first people that came to me were our special ed teachers,” she said. “Just know that we’re going to try to do our best to make sure that your job does not continue to be such a struggle and that we’re providing you with the resources that individual children need.”

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