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A Message From the Superintendent: Special Education Challenges and Solutions

December 7th, 2021

The following statement was issued to Howard County Public School System staff, students, families and community by HCPSS Superintendent Michael Martirano on Dec. 7, 2021:

Special education has been at the forefront of many discussions over the years, and more so in recent months and days. It is an area with challenges nationwide, including insufficient funding, training, staff, and other resources. In Howard County we have prioritized funding to strengthen our special education supports, adding positions and resources every year to address the needs of some of our most vulnerable students. In addition, recognizing the growing need that the pandemic has exacerbated, HCPSS has committed federal funding received during the pandemic to support our special education efforts.

Just as it has on many areas of our community, the pandemic has put a significant burden on educators, particularly in special education. While we have continued to address the historic understaffing, we also are contending right now with a lack of candidates for many of our vacant positions. This has exacerbated the pressures on our classroom staff.

It was recently suggested during a report to the Board of Education that some students receiving special education services should be removed from classrooms in an effort to protect staff from the risk of physical injury. Many families have reached out to me, fearful their child will be removed from the classroom.

I want to make this clear: I will not remove students receiving special education services from their classroom or school, or reduce or eliminate special education services.

We have no intention of modifying current in-person schedules for students with disabilities and we have no tolerance for denying them access to instructional opportunities afforded to every student. Any shift in the schedule for a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is always driven by an IEP team decision, which includes the parents/guardians of that child.

We have phenomenal special education staff in HCPSS, including special educators, related service providers, and support teachers within our buildings who tend to the needs of students every day. They are joined by the many general education teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, school psychologists and others in their schools, who are committed to ensuring every child is cared for and receiving quality instruction. Staff from the Central Office support school-based teams with training and advocacy, and even take time out of their schedules to provide direct support to students when needed. Additionally, Howard County parents of students receiving early intervention and special education services are extraordinary advocates for their children and partners in their education, and we depend on their collaboration to ensure student success.

It is essential that our educators are provided the tools needed—including training, protective equipment, and support—to be successful. We firmly believe that the most effective solution is not to remove students from the classroom, but instead to work toward ensuring sufficient staffing and resources are in place to provide a safe and inclusive instructional environment for all students and staff.

The HCPSS Strategic Call to Action: Learning and Leading with Equity is about removing barriers—not removing students. Our students are why we are here and we will continue to provide services while also identifying and implementing ways to care for staff. Our focus has been, and will continue to be, advocating for the critical resources for this and other underserved populations in our student body.

We will continue to invite conversation with any stakeholder who is interested in collaborating with us toward reasonable solutions that enhance special education services while supporting staff.

Thank you to our amazing special educators and families of students receiving early intervention and special education services for your love, care, compassion, and advocacy.