Why the union says Norwalk special education teachers are quitting

NORWALK — The growing number of staff vacancies, particularly in special education, is creating an unsustainable environment in the city’s public schools, the head of the local teachers’ union has said.

As of Oct. 27, Norwalk Public Schools said the district had a total of 65 vacancies. The openings included 26 state-certified positions — administrators, speech pathologists, teachers, school counselors, social workers, school psychologists and long-term substitutes — and 39 uncertified positions. Of the 26 certified vacancies, Norwalk Schools declared 15 to be teaching positions.

Of the 65 vacancies, the district said 24 were “specialty learning positions” and 11 were paraprofessionals who provide support to teachers.

The district did not comment on the vacancies.

Following special education openings, Mary Yordon, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, said existing special educators often have to step in and do the work of one and a half or even two people.

“It’s not environmentally sustainable,” Yordon said.

“We feel very strongly about the challenges of maintaining vacancies in special education,” Yordon said. “It’s not easy to replace a special educator, or the workload of services, or the services they provide to students. You can’t just replace that with a substitute. These vacancies in special education are a stressor for the remaining special educators who are trying to take on the workload, trying to take on the services that need to be provided to students. »

And the problem is likely to get worse. According to education recruitment platform Frontline, schools in Norwalk listed a total of 89 vacancies as of November 1. The job site has listed 30 specialist teaching positions and 21 paraprofessional positions at Norwalk. The 89 openings are slightly more than Norwalk Frontline’s 83 positions listed as of mid-October.

According to Frontline listings, Brien McMahon High School’s 16 total vacancies as of Nov. 1 were more than double any other school in Norwalk. Norwalk High School’s seven total vacancies were the second highest in the district.

At last month’s Board of Education meeting, officials said a total of 22 school employees had quit since August.

Yordon said the “profile” of Norwalk’s special education program forces some teachers to leave the district.

“We’ve had four special education administrators in charge of special education over the past year,” she said. “We are losing people to a few of our surrounding districts. Special educators move from here to other places where there are more effective and stable routines and supports.

Yordon said the increase in vacancies among special education teachers and paraprofessionals is impacting the classroom environment and student learning.

“Our working conditions are student learning conditions,” Yordon said. “When school staff and faculty operate in an atmosphere of stress and high turnover and seek to build relationships, it creates a stressful atmosphere in which students learn, so we believe this has an impact on many levels.”

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