Shortage of para-educators forcing schools to keep some students home
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As a new school year begins, many Vermont school districts are dealing with inadequate staffing levels in multiple different positions, including para-educators. And that is leaving students without essential care -- and some parents frustrated.
Lynn Brochu’s daughter, Miley, is a nine-year-old at the Irasburg Village School, part of The Orleans Central Supervisory Union. She says her daughter is a shaken baby syndrome survivor and that her needs are high. “She’s got a pretty extensive IEP, to include PT, OT -- speech and language,” Brochu said.
To start this school year, she says Miley was told she couldn’t go because nobody at the school could provide the care she needs. “I recognize the totality of the state shortage of people and bodies, but, however, this is coming at the expense of my daughter right now,” she said.
OCSU Superintendent Penny Chamberlin says they are keeping kids like Miley home for their safety. “If we don’t have that support, we’re not able to take care of that child -- that’s a safety, that’s a safety issue. It has nothing to do with the child or anything, it’s outside of our control,” she said.
Chamberlin says staffing challenges exist throughout the six schools in her district, specifically a lack of applicants for para-educator positions. “We’re not in a position that we can serve all students to the best of our ability. We want to, we so want to, but we just can’t. We don’t have people,” she said.
According to School Spring, a help wanted website for Vermont schools, there are 284 open special ed positions throughout the state.
Don Tinney, president of the Vermont-NEA, says low wages aren’t helping to attract applicants. “The salaries for our education support professionals have not been keeping up with inflation, and today they can leave their job at school and go into retail and construction and make $100 to $200 more a week,” he said.
Brochu, and her husband Phil, say they’ve resorted to taking Miley into school and staying with her for a portion of the day, making it difficult to get to work themselves. “They say they’re interviewing people but really, in the end, there’s no foreseeable end in this and I think that’s what’s more disappointing,” Phil said.
Chamberlin says they’re working with the state to come up with a solution and also exploring the possibility of contracting outside of the district, a plan that prove difficult considering the statewide competition for para-educators.
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