Citing unsafe classrooms, Jeffco special ed aides call for hiring changes

District to review contract with support professionals

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/9/20

When Mary Bergren came to speak to the Board of Education Jan. 9, it was to tell the story of how she was injured on the job. An educational aide, known as a paraprofessional, in a program for …

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Citing unsafe classrooms, Jeffco special ed aides call for hiring changes

District to review contract with support professionals

Posted

When Mary Bergren came to speak to the Board of Education Jan. 9, it was to tell the story of how she was injured on the job. An educational aide, known as a paraeducator in a program for students with significant special needs (SSN), Bergren was injured while trying to help a student during an episode of problematic behavior, she said.

Bergren's fellow staff member was also injured, with the two of them the only staff available to help the student, Bergren said. She believes the situation could have been avoided with a change to the district's hiring policy.

“This was physically and psychologically upsetting to everyone involved,” she said. “I love my job and the satisfaction it brings. (However), appropriate staffing is crucial for safety.”

A group of SSN educators and parents addressed the board Jan. 9 to request action that they believe would reduce safety concerns for adults working in special education classrooms.

The group's primary concerns centered around what they referred to as the district's “right-sizing policy.” 

District guidelines for 2019-2020 require a 3:1 ratio for adults in the room compared to SSN students, including the teacher. For ASD and DHH+ classrooms only — Autism Spectrum Disorder and Deaf/Hard of Hearing classrooms — the ratio is 2:1.

The ratio was recently changed, having formerly been a 2:1 ratio, said Lara Center, president of the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA).

Under district policy, school principals and special education administrators can choose to hire extra paraeducators if necessary when new students join the class, said Susan Leach, chief student success officer. However, district policy only requires schools to "right-size" their student to teacher ratio at two times during the school year, the beginning of a new semester, in September and January.

This can lead to understaffing in the months between if new students join the class mid-semester, but aides are not hired, said Lorri Avery, a parent of an SSN student in Jeffco.

“I have yet to find anyone who can tell me why this policy is in place or who it benefits,” she said. “It is unsafe, it is negatively affecting relationships in the class and it does not provide an appropriate education for the students.”

The hiring policies can be changed by altering the contract between the district and JESPA, said Superintendent Jason Glass. District staff plans to review whether the change could be made unilaterally by the district or would have to occur during the district's annual negotiations process with JESPA, he said.

“We are completely open to reviewing and revisiting this,” Glass said. “We want to make sure staff are placed where the student needs are.”

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