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San Diego Unified Holds Off On Plan That Would Increase Special Education Caseloads

A member of the San Diego Education Association holds a sign, San Diego, Feb....

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: A member of the San Diego Education Association holds a sign, San Diego, Feb. 4, 2019.

UPDATE: 6:15 p.m., Feb. 4, 2019

San Diego Unified has agreed to temporarily hold off on a plan that would increase the caseload of some special education teachers. The news came as about 60 people gathered at the district office to protest Monday.

The teachers, staff and parents wanted to deliver a letter to Superintendent Cindy Marten demanding she immediately staff-up special education and attend a forum to hear their concerns. The district plans to give some teachers new job classifications that would boost their caseload from 20 to 24 students. But teachers say they’re already maxed out.

"I was getting up at 3:00 in the morning to write reports," said Sara Finegan, a special education teacher at Hage Elementary in Mira Mesa who said she had to manage 37 students last year. "I was working through lunch. I was getting to work at 6:30. I would work at home through the afternoon, evening and weekends. I had no life. And the kids suffered."

Finegan said one student with autism was put in a general education classroom without the support required under his Individual Education Plan to help him be successful alongside typically-developing children. The district said it is looking into the matter as it processes a grievance that Finegan filed, but that it is generally complying with the union contract when it comes to workload.

Superintendent Marten was not there Monday to receive the letter but said through a spokesman she would attend a forum in the coming weeks.

The title-change plan is on hold while the district and union continue talks.

Original story:

Members of the San Diego Education Association, the union for teachers and other certificated staff in the San Diego Unified School District, are planning to march to Superintendent Cindy Marten’s office this afternoon.

They’re demanding improved staffing for special education, and that Marten attend a forum to hear from special education teachers, other staff and parents.

San Diego Unified Chief of Staff Staci Monreal heard their concerns at a forum last week. There, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, teachers complained of existing caseloads taking over their personal lives and expressed dismay that some would see still higher caseloads next year. The district is changing the job titles of some staff — from special education teachers with a maximum caseload of 20 to resource specialists with a maximum caseload of 24.

RELATED: San Diego Unified Looks Ahead To More — But Smaller — Budget Cuts

SDEA President Kisha Borden was not available to comment in advance of Monday’s union action. She was negotiating a potential compromise with district staff.

Acacia Thede, chief human resources officer at the district, said a resolution could come by the end of business Monday.

She said the job title changes are not an attempt to raise caseloads in lieu of hiring additional staff. Rather, the district is trying to comply with its new contract with SDEA, which sketched out the new titles.

“When you say the word understaffing, there’s an assumption that we haven’t hired enough people, and that’s actually not accurate,” Thede said. “So what we’re doing is we’re working with teachers on the ground, with principals to make sure that our contract is being followed. And we’re making sure that when people need support, we’re getting it to them.”

Thede did not say what a resolution with the union might look like.

A Facebook invitation for Monday’s protest showed about 20 people attending and dozens more interested in attending.

The district plans to give some teachers new job classifications that would boost their caseload from 20 to 24 students. But teachers say they’re already maxed out.

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