Vt. education secretary says schools must meet requirements despite staffing shortages

Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 6:23 PM EDT
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IRASBURG, Vt. (WCAX) - Miley Brochu is back at school. The Irasburg Village School finally found someone to give Miley the one-on-one attention she needs. For the first week and a half of school, Miley wasn’t allowed to go to class without a parent because her school couldn’t find a paraeducator for her. But is that legal?

We now know after a recent school board meeting that Miley has a paraeducator assigned to her, meaning she’s back in school full time without her parents.

802 Ed tracks the number of open positions throughout the state. They say there are currently 731 openings for paraeducators and other classroom aides.

But when it comes to individual education plans or IEPs, a school district is obligated to provide services whether a position is filled or not.

“The lack of follow-through of an individual education plan-- like this is bigger than just two parents being sad and mad,” Lynn Brochu said.

Brochu adopted her daughter, Miley, a shaken baby survivor, when she was 2 months old. She uses a power chair.

Since the start of the school year, Brochu says under Miley’s individual education plan or IEP, the school is required to provide physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies. But she says the school failed to meet those requirements.

“There has been ways to ensure that my daughter isn’t a liability to the school-- they just didn’t do anything about it, that’s negligence on their part... Not on my daughter,” Brochu said.

The school district says a paraeducator shortage is to blame.

Penny Chamberlin is the superintendent of the Orleans Central Supervisory Union. She says the school district is legally obligated to follow a student’s individual education plan. But there are only a few people on campus who can safely provide those one-on-one services.

“It doesn’t mean that you can automatically move that person over to do that support. It needs to be someone who’s qualified and more than likely it’s a special educator who needs to provide those direct services,” Chamberlin said.

Chamberlin says if an IEP cannot be followed to a T, the school district, an IEP team and the family go back to the drawing board to find a solution.

But according to Brochu, the family was told Miley couldn’t go to school for her own safety, because someone could not be with her constantly.

That’s something Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says should never be an option.

“They have an entitlement to a free and appropriate public education. That legal requirement has not been reduced for districts in spite of staffing issues and what have you, so they have to be very careful about not meeting those requirements and there can be legal repercussions for failing to do so,” French said.

French says parents can take legal action if they feel an IEP isn’t being followed appropriately.

He says the state is exploring ways to help districts fill in the gaps to improve the pipeline to paraeducator positions.

“We have to work at making the work more doable, which is one of the reasons why we’ve made significant investments into the wellness initiative for staff. So I think we have to attend to all of those things. But you know, again, there’s no easy solution here,” French said.

Chamberlin says her district is already doing that, for example, shifting some positions to part-time work for greater flexibility.

The district just secured five paraeducators from Illumine, an outside organization. They will provide behavioral services such as social skills and language development.

We asked the Education Agency how many Vermont students are impacted by this paraeducator shortage but the state could not tell us.

Related Story:

Shortage of paraeducators forcing schools to keep some students home