GOLDEN, Colo. — As students return to the classroom this month, districts around the metro area are scrambling to find special education professionals amid a growing shortage.
JeffCo Public Schools leaders, for example, said about 7% of their learning specialist positions, which include special education teachers districtwide, remain open. JeffCo Public Schools has two entire schools devoted to students with special needs.
Statewide, 17% of the open positions for special service providers in Colorado remained open in the 2021-22 school year, according to data from a survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Education. This is the latest data available from the state.
“Pre-pandemic special education was already kind of a hard to fill position…we’ve seen the pandemic exasperate that,” Matt Palaoro, JeffCo’s Chief Student Success Officer, said. “What I mean by that is students needs have changed…their needs are greater coming back from the pandemic.”
Palaoro said some students with disabilities had a difficult time accessing remote learning or had a hard time staying engaged in a remote learning environment,
“What we saw in some cases are needs related to social-emotional development as well as some learning loss that needs to be addressed,” he said.
And as students with more intense needs return to the classroom, the teachers and professionals tasked to help are burning out.
“They are working with a lot of students that have a lot more intensive needs,” Liza Meier, Executive Director of Special Education, said.
To help understand that burnout better, Palaoro said his district created a collaborative committee specific to special education. In that committee, professionals can share their experiences with district leaders to figure out ways jobs can be redesigned to better manage workload and burnout.
JeffCo Public Schools is confident they’ll have enough special education resources for students when classes start on Tuesday. They’ve bridged the vacancies by getting creative.
“Where we can we’re using community partners,” Palaoro said. “We’re working with our community advocacy groups…we’re partnering with neighboring districts to see what they’ve been able to do that’s been successful.”
Other districts in the metro area are having similar problems.
Littleton Public Schools is short 13 special education paraprofessionals and has nine licensed special education openings, including occupational therapists, center-based teachers and speech-language pathologists, according to district spokeswoman Diane Leiker.
LPS is holding a hiring fair for all open positions on Tuesday, August 23 from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Educational Services Center at 5776 South Crocker St. in Littleton.
Douglas County Schools has five special education teacher openings, according to district spokeswoman Paula Hans.
Adams 12 Five Star Schools is short 15 special education teachers, according to spokeswoman Christina Dahmen.
Cherry Creek Schools has enough teachers to cover their special education programs, but some of the programs generally have more than one teacher, according to CCSD spokeswoman Abbe Smith.
Cherry Creek has 28 openings for those teachers. Interested candidates can apply here.