Educators working in the Edmonds School District’s special education program and their supporters appeared outside the virtual Edmonds School Board meeting on Tuesday to voice their concerns about the program, saying in a letter that they ” feel completely abandoned” by the district administrators.
During the public comment period of the meeting, two community members took turns reading 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 the signatories were omitted because staff fear losing their jobs for speaking out against the administration.
The letter stated that drastic decisions were being made in the program without any input from teachers or staff. When staff tried to voice their concerns, they were reprimanded or ignored, the letter adds.
“We feel completely let down by the administrators,” the letter said. “Teachers have 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 go unanswered for weeks or even months. Whole programs have been changed, disbanded or created without asking staff for any input that could make these changes a success.
The letter says the administration’s failure to include teachers in decision-making is hurting both the entire program and the students it promises to help. The letter also included complaints about the administration ignoring unsafe staffing levels in several classrooms.
“If equity for all is truly a belief in the mission of the Edmonds School District, our special education students should be prioritized and leadership practices and student services should be closely reviewed,” the letter states.
To address the concerns expressed, the letter asked the district to begin listening sessions to hear the issues and discuss solutions; develop “transparent written procedures for shared decision-making; hold regular face-to-face meetings with directors; and to ensure 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 education leadership has been inconsistent, insensitive and retaliatory when they disagreed,” Martin said. “They have created a toxic work environment at [Edmonds School District] which led to the resignation of qualified administrators, office staff, teachers and para-educators. Did you know that today three class staff resigned and gave their two weeks notice? »
The three speakers pleaded with the school board to assess what was going on in the special education program and urged them to do something before the whole program collapses.
Harmony Weinberg, communications and public relations manager for the Edmonds School District, said Thursday the district will likely release a response to the letter next week.
In other business, the district board on Tuesday night agreed to a district plan to remove 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 asking for patience and kindness as the council discussed difficult topics. The district has been understaffed since the pandemic began, and Balderas said staff are doing their best in these difficult times with the limited resources they have.
“We don’t have people to change [of tough situations] but we have the people in a position to intervene,” he said.
Every board member has said they support the removal of indoor mask mandates on Monday, March 14. Some, however, had some reservations about it.
Director Keith Smith said he understands why the district is following the guidelines, but he doesn’t understand why the guidelines themselves are changing.
“It seems like a strange and emotional thing where absolute numbers don’t seem to matter to officials anymore,” Smith said. “Getting rid of your masks right now is like throwing your umbrella in the pouring rain 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 aren’t bullied for it.
“[We need to] to keep it very, very acceptable to wear a mask. I don’t want people being harassed,” Noble said.
Student representative Isabel Vergara Ramos thanked the board for considering the students’ personal choices. However, she said most of the students she spoke to planned to continue wearing a mask until the end of the school year, whether the mandate was lifted or not, so she hoped the bullying would not become not a problem.
Also during the meeting, Weinberg announced that volunteers would be allowed to return to schools after two long years of absence. The application process for those wishing to volunteer is expected to launch early next week, with volunteers returning to classrooms just after spring break. Background checks will be conducted for all applicants, as well as vaccine checks.
The board voted to return to in-person school board meetings, beginning with the March 15 board retreat and March 22 business meeting.
“I don’t think there’s a world where we can have masks optional at school and then say we’re going to work remotely,” Smith said.
Smith suggested meetings continue in a hybrid format so viewers who aren’t comfortable being in a crowded room with others without masks can still participate. Superintendent Balderas said all school board meetings will continue to be streamed online for the safety and convenience of viewers.
Some board members said they were excited to return, but would still choose to wear masks and stay 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