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Special Ed Teachers: We’re Overburdened And Underpaid

Special education teachers and support staff protest at the San Diego Unified...

Photo by Joe Hong

Above: Special education teachers and support staff protest at the San Diego Unified School District Office on Feb. 11, 2020.

After rallying outside the San Diego Unified School District office on Normal Street, special education teachers and aides carried boxes full of complaints into the superintendent’s office Tuesday evening.

The complaints tell the story of overburdened teachers and support staff who say they are under-trained and have caseloads that are higher than the district’s 20-student limit.

“These folks are service providers but they’re not able to meet all the needs of their students because there’s a lack of staff,” said Kisha Borden, president of the teachers union at San Diego Unified.

The teachers were joined by teacher aides who say they aren’t properly trained to work with students with the most challenging behaviors.

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“I feel that as a classified employee and a paraeducator, we are as important as a teacher but often undervalued,” said Issel Martinez, whose title is “behavior technician.”

“We’re making sure we fight for our rights, not just for ourselves but for our students,” she said.

But funding special education programs have become a financial strain for districts across the state. At San Diego Unified, the number of students receiving special education services has grown in the past five years, but the funding has dropped because overall enrollment has shrunk.

The state calculates special education funding by estimating that about 8% of students need extra services. However, 13% of San Diego Unified students qualify for special education services.

The funding gap is exacerbated by falling enrollment in the district.

District spokesman Andrew Sharp said Superintendent Cindy Marten understands the challenges facing special education teachers and their aides, and that Marten would be reviewing each of the complaints. But he said the state needs to increase funding for a permanent solution.

Awaiting Marten’s response, teachers and staff remain cautiously optimistic.

“She’s said she’s open to finding solutions, and so I’m encouraged by that,” Borden said. “But we also need to see results.”

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.


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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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