Matt Haney at a previous event. Haney has asked that a special education coordinator be hired for Mount Desert Island High School. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Special ed teachers ‘swamped’

BAR HARBOR — The special education teachers at Mount Desert Island High School are “swamped” and need help, Principal Matt Haney told the school’s board Tuesday night.

“They are absolutely overwhelmed,” he said. “Their case sizes are really, really large, and their paperwork burden is shocking. It’s something we’re desperately struggling with.”

Haney said the proposed budget for next year, which he will present to the board in December, might include a new staff position – special education coordinator – to relieve the teachers’ work load. Superintendent Marc Gousse said he would support that recommendation.

The high school currently has seven special education teachers and 15 special ed techs. There are 104 special education students, those who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An additional 69 students with less severe learning and attention difficulties receive extra support.

Together, these two groups make up 32.4 percent of the school’s current student population of 534.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public schools to create and implement an IEP for every student receiving special education services. Students who don’t qualify for an IEP but have learning difficulties, may be eligible for a “504 plan,” named for Section 504 of a federal civil rights law that bars discrimination against students with disabilities.

Haney said the high school’s learning area leader for special services currently has a case load of 20 students with IEPs and about 10 with 504 plans, in addition to supervising and evaluating special ed techs. He said the addition of a special education coordinator would reduce the “burnout factor” of the learning area leader position.

Melissa Beckwith, director of special services for the MDI Regional School System, agreed with Haney that part of the “overwhelming burden” on special education teachers is the amount of paperwork that have to do.

“Many of these students require multiple meetings per year, and every meeting generates new paperwork responsibilities,” she said. “Additionally, the special education teachers are required to initially administer and generate an academic achievement report for every student who is referred for special education.”

School board member Heather Jones asked if the proposed new special education coordinator position might be shared between the high school and one or more of the elementary schools in the district.

“It’s something to consider,” Haney said. “Something is better than nothing. But there is more than enough work for one person to do here.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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