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Parents protest Seattle Public Schools' proposed special education staff swap

Staffing changes are on the way for the 2021-2022 school year at Seattle Public Schools.

SEATTLE — Staffing changes are on the way for the 2021-2022 school year at Seattle Public Schools and a group of parents fear that special education students will be impacted the most. 

The district says changes are needed as a result of a significant decline in enrolment. But some parents say they haven’t been consulted.

“We know that students with disabilities are among the students that are most adversely effected by the pandemic and by remote learning and their learning has been disruptive. They’re behind and, if anything, they need a lot of extra support,” said Janis White, president of the Seattle Special Education PTSA.

Seattle Public Schools is shaking up staffing for the coming school year citing two years of declining enrollment. In a written statement, a spokesperson said the district has experienced two years of declining enrolment and they are now serving “3,440 fewer students in 2021/22 than 2019/20. This includes students who receive special education services.”

Numbers from 2020-2021 show 52,381 total students in the district. Close to 7,900 qualify for special education.

“We can suspect that in many cases, many families chose to leave because their students have not been served for the last two years,” White said.

District officials say they now have more special education personnel than is required to meet the student need – therefore 14 educators are being reassigned within the district – others may be moved but are staying within the same school building.

“These staffing adjustments are made with the singular focus on addressing the unmet needs of students with IEPs (Individualized Education Program),” the SPS statement reads.

Cherylnne Crowther, a mother of a student, says it's yet another hurdle for a group of students that, for the most part, struggled with a year-plus of remote learning.

“The system is not designed for them. It’s not even that the system is broken. The system is not designed for them,” Crowther said.

Staffing adjustments happen every year though district officials acknowledge the challenges it may pose for some students. Therefore, they’ve hired additional social workers in an attempt to smooth the transition for students that may be impacted.