by James C. Sherlock
On February 16, USA Today published a story by Jeanine Santucci. That is the latest in an excellent series of reports on the shooting of Newport News first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner.
Her article, “Virginia 6-year-old who shot his teacher exposes flaws in how schools treat students with disabilities.” raises questions that Virginians need to answer.
- What, exactly, do we expect of special education teachers and what do we owe them?
- What training and resources must we provide?
- How do we keep them safe?
- How do we get enough people to accept the challenges and risks?
Any school official or teacher will tell you:
- That the best-organized parents in K-12 education are special-ed parents;
- That federal law is very prescriptive and provides little room for error on the part of the schools;
- That schools’ (meaning taxpayers’) liability for error is open-ended; and
- That special-ed continues to get more challenging, especially after COVID accelerated the number of emotionally disturbed children and adolescents.
Few school divisions will claim to have any of that under control.
JLARC in 2020 concurred with that assessment in Virginia.
Longstanding shortage of special education teachers persists, and many school divisions rely on under-prepared teachers to fill gaps.
IEPs are not consistently designed effectively.
School divisions are not consistently preparing students with disabilities for life after high school.