Call for Action: Are staffing shortages disrupting your child’s education?

MADISON, Wis. — A Madison mom is calling for action over how school staffing shortages might be impacting her daughter’s education.

Andrea Amos says her adopted 15-year-old daughter was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome at a young age. News 3 Now is respecting the family’s request not to name her out of fear of bullying.

Since kindergarten, Amos says the girl has been under an individual education program, or IEP, to help her through school as she struggles from short- and long-term memory loss, among other issues. It stipulates she receive additional adult support in each of her core classes to help her understand instructions.

“She wants to learn,” Amos says of her daughter. “That’s her biggest thing.”

This year, though, Amos says her daughter became withdrawn and unhappy after school. When asked why, she told her mom she was struggling in school and wasn’t receiving the help she needed. Amos went to the school for answers, talking to staff over the phone and in-person. Both times, she was told this:

“They weren’t going to be able to cover her for her IEP, because they didn’t have enough staff, and other kids with special needs would trump her.”

We checked with the Department of Public Instruction — under state and federal law, a student’s IEP must be implemented as written. We also checked Andrea’s daughter’s IEP — it specifies she receive 30 minutes of additional adult support in each core class, something Amos says she hasn’t been receiving since the start of the school year.

Cfa Iep Details

“The school district shouldn’t have opened the school with all the kids in mind,” Amos said. “You cannot pick and choose which kid will get an education and which ones will not.”

The Madison Metropolitan School District has not answered many of our questions on Amos’s allegations. When asked, Tim LeMonds, the executive director for communications in the district, said the issue had been fixed. When we pressed him, he declined to respond to half a dozen calls and emails.

Amos says otherwise.

“One class she’s in, she’s not getting help in that class at all. Still to this day,” Amos said.

A shortage of special education teachers is something districts across the state are dealing with. DPI’s best data for determining just how short Wisconsin is on special ed teachers is the number of emergency licenses issued for the position. Last school year, public schools issued almost 1,100. That’s a roughly 300 percent increase from the 2012-2013 school year.

Special Ed Bar Graph

Special Ed Bar Graph 2

“We’ve seen school districts struggle to fill openings across the board, but it is especially troublesome when it comes to the shortage of teachers for special education,” said Dr. Penny Johnson, chair of the Education Transfer Program at Madison College.

Madison College is doing its share to help solve the statewide problem. Last month, the college announced a transfer agreement with the University of Wisconsin that helps clear up the pipeline for students to become teachers. The program ensures automatic admission into UW’s School of Education, as long as they earn a 3.0 cumulative GPA and meet UW’s admission requirements.

The goal is to entice more future teachers who might otherwise not have thought a 4-year degree was for them.

“That’s where Madison College comes into play, is reaching out to those populations, and at the same time providing this clear transfer path to the School of Education,” Johnson said.

Students can apply to enroll in the program starting next September.

Meanwhile, Amos says she’s concerned for other Madison students who might be enrolled in an IEP the district can’t meet. She says their parents might not have any idea what’s happening with their child’s education.

“If I hadn’t [called,] she could have went through the whole school year and not had any help,” Amos said of her daughter.

“I thought they said no kid is left behind.”