Special education teachers tell Edmonds School Board they feel ‘abandoned’ by district administration

Edmonds School Board directors meet virtually Tuesday night.

Educators working in the Edmonds School District’s special education program and their supporters came before the virtual meeting of the Edmonds School Board Tuesday to express their concerns about the program, stating in a letter that they “are feeling completely abandoned” by district administrators.

During the meeting’s public comment period, two community members took turns reading from a letter critical of the district’s special education program

The letter was signed by nearly 350 special educators and supporters, the speakers said, but the names of those signing were omitted because staff fear they will lose their jobs for speaking out against the administration.

The letter stated that drastic decisions are being made in the program without any input from teachers or staff. When staff have tried to voice their concerns, they have been reprimanded or ignored, the letter added. 

“We are feeling completely abandoned by administrators,” the letter stated. “Teachers get almost no direct contact with district special education staff. Office hours are scheduled and then canceled without notice. Email is the only way to communicate with our administrators and can remain unanswered for weeks or even months. Entire programs have been changed, dissolved or created without asking staff for any of the input which could make those changes successful.”

The letter said the administration’s failure to include teachers in decision-making is harming both the entire program and the students it promises to help. The letter also included complaints about the administration ignoring the unsafe levels of staffing in multiple classrooms. 

“If equity for all is truly a belief in the mission of Edmonds School District, our special education students should be prioritized and the leadership practices and student services should be closely reexamined,” the letter said.

To address the stated concerns, the letter asked the district to begin listening sessions to hear the issues and discuss solutions; to develop “transparent, written procedures for shared decision making; to hold regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings with administrators; and to ensure that administrators follow district policies to respond to emails within 48 hours.”

A teacher, Jennifer Martin, also spoke during public comments about the state of the special education program.

“Special Ed leadership has been inconsistent, unresponsive and retaliatory when disagreed with,” said Martin. “They have created a toxic work environment at the [Edmonds School District] which has led to the resignation of qualified administrators, office personnel, teachers and paraeducators. Did you know today, three staff in one class have resigned and given their two-weeks’ notice?”

All three speakers pleaded with the school board to evaluate what has been going on in the special education program and urged them to do something about it before the whole program collapses.

Edmonds School District Communications and Public Relations Manager Harmony Weinberg said Thursday the district is likely to issue a response to the letter next week.

In other business, the district’s board of directors Tuesday night agreed with a district plan to remove both indoor and outdoor mask mandates starting  March 14,  and they also decided to return to in-person school board meetings.

Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas began by requesting patience and kindness as the board discussed difficult topics. The district has been understaffed since the beginning of the pandemic, and Balderas said staff have been doing the best they can in these difficult times with the limited resources available to them.

“We don’t have people to change out [of tough situations] but we do have the people in positions to step in,” he said.

Every board member said they were in favor of removing the indoor mask mandates on Monday, March 14. Some, however, had some reservations about it.

Director Keith Smith said he understood why the district was following guidelines, but he didn’t understand why the guidelines themselves were changing. 

“This just seems like a weird-moving thing where the absolute numbers don’t seem to matter to officials anymore,” Smith said. “Getting rid of your masks right now feels like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm just because you’re not getting wet right now.”

Directors Carin Chase and Gary Noble both want to make sure students who choose to continue wearing masks do not get bullied for it.

“[We need to] make sure that it remains very, very acceptable to wear a mask. I don’t want people to be harassed,” Noble said.

Student representative Isabel Vergara Ramos thanked the board for taking students’ personal choices into consideration. However, she said that most of the students she had spoken to were planning to continue to wear a mask through the end of the school year regardless of whether the mandate was lifted, so she hoped bullying would not become an issue.

Also during the meeting, Weinberg announced that volunteers will be allowed to return to schools after two long years of being absent. The application process for those wishing to volunteer is set to launch early next week, with volunteers coming back to classrooms right after spring break. Background checks will be conducted for all applicants, as well as vaccine verifications.

The board voted to return to in-person school board meetings, starting with the board’s retreat March 15 and its March 22 business meeting. 

“I do not think there is a world in which we can have masks optional in school and then say that we are going to work remotely,” Smith said.

Smith suggested the meetings continue in a hybrid format so viewers who are uncomfortable being in a crowded room with others who are maskless can still participate. Superintendent Balderas said all school board meetings will continue to be streamed online for viewers’ safety and comfort.

Some board members said they are excited to come back but will still be opting to wear masks and remain six feet apart.

“I’m ready to come back,” Director Deborah Kilgore said. “I’ve been ready to come back for a long time.”

— By Lauren Reichenbach

  1. My experience has been actually that’s it not the non-masking crowd bullying the maskers, rather, the other way around. At least in this state. Ask me how I know. Other than that, the board made the right decision about that particular item.

  2. I once got yelled at for not wearing a mask in a public park. Never seen the opposite happen. Something tells me no one will be bullied for wearing a mask. I’m worried about being harassed for not wearing a mask.

    1. I think the maskers deserve more than some ridicule. This has been an absolutely unscientific and totalitarian disruption to everyone’s lives. “Benghazi Study”, largest ever study on medical grade masks proves this worthless. 340k people studied, only a few hundred infections difference in control verse sample group. There’s been zero correlation for schools that masked verse those who didn’t. The teachers are too political to adequately teach the kids in the same way flight attendants are too political to handle a water landing. Ridicule is the only natural method to deal with this. Even Saturday Night Live is ridiculing this. https://youtu.be/2k6xroHtn-8

  3. I’m dismayed – though hardly surprised – that the only comments about this article focus on the topic of masks.

    It’s obvious that the Edmonds School District is currently seriously underserving its special education students, teachers and support system. This must be addressed by the ESD board as well as individual schools. There are thousands of special ed students and families impacted by this neglect – and as the parent of one of those students I’ve witnessed this behavior for too long. And it has only gotten worse through the pandemic. Th teachers & staff who work with our son are amazing & heroes in my mind. They should be given full support and resources to help this student population develop, grow and thrive – not seen as outsiders.

    I applaud the teachers and supporters who raised this concern to the board and hope we see more than “listening” in the future.

    1. David – the reason I didn’t comment on that is because I have no scope of reference. I can only comment on the mask issue because it is what my kids in the ESD have been affected by. I read the rest of the article as an observer and found it informative as I balance many of the ways the ESD does support our kids and the ways they are not meeting their obligations. I’m sorry you feel your kids are not getting the support they deserve and I hope that changes.

      1. Fair response @Tom and thank you for your words regarding ESD’s lack of support for the growing special education student population. There really is no excuse for it.

  4. My mom was a special ed teacher. My adult son is autistic. Moving to WA was the greatest mistake of my life. We had great care in CA and in UT. In UT Matt got through high school. Here I private paid for a psychiatrist until he dropped Matt in May. Now Matt cannot find a psychiatrist and is undermedicated. He self medicates in monster and coke to calm himself down (sensory overload). Matt is depressed and sleeps For 12 hours. Cannot get any help from anyone. WA ranks 32 out of 50 for outpatient psychotherapy . Plenty of psychiatrists for inpatient if you threaten to harm yourself. Something is wrong. Matt’s primary can prescribe Depakote but not Ritalin. And no one is available to prescribe Ritalin. My guess is this is a money insurance thing. No state tax. No money to pay for special ed or meds that might be needed for special ed kids. Safety net is inpatient psych. I wrote WA Head of Public Health. He said there was nothing that could be done. Money for Special ed and outpatient therapy for neuro atypical kids is just not available in WA. Everyone knows it. It’s this dirty little secret. No one will talk about it. People just say: we have a shortage of therapists in WA. Someone in WA is benefiting from this situation or it would not exist. And the kids lose and end up in Seattle’s Famous tent city.

  5. our family has been greatly affected by this exact situation. because the district does not give the schools the resources for kids in special education, my son was pushed out of several schools. my son is 7 years old and has already gone through 7 schools in the past 2 years. one school would call me to ask if I could have my son stay home because they did not have enough teachers. the IEP classrooms have no hands-on activities, no music, no science projects, no field trips, no school assembly’s, no gardens, no toys (due to them assuming will be thrown) only coloring paper, math and reading. they do not provide the teachers with safety equipment for children that hit and bite. the IEP classrooms are bare and colorless resembling an empty office space. the teachers and children are placed in small pods outside of the schools, while having a classroom of 10 emotional and high active children with only 1 teacher and possibly 2 helpers ( if the district allows the school to hire more staff) teachers feel so powerless to where they put my son when he was 6 in an isolation room that was a 5,x6, closet with no padding on the walls…this system is destroying out teachers and children’s future!

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