Incensed parents of Metro special-needs students say they were blindsided by the school district’s announcement that it would cut about 130 paraprofessionals, aides who parents say are essential to ensuring inclusive special education practices in the classroom.
“There are many parents who are in constant communication with school administrators, so there was plenty of opportunity to make us aware of their plan,” Daynise Couch, a parent of an autistic Metro student, told media gathered for a press conference to protest the job reductions.
“Instead, parents were not communicated with effectively, and upon hearing the announcement, were understandably outraged,” she said.
Friday’s protest and corresponding press conference, featuring dozens of parents and their special-needs children, came on the heels of Metro school officials’ decision to part ways with an estimated 130 paraprofessionals as a result of depleted federal stimulus funds. School administrators say the cuts equate to between $3 million and $4 million.
Metro school officials claim they started notifying parents, principals and others months ago about the looming cuts.
“It was shared with parent groups in advance, it was shared with principals in advance,” MNPS spokeswoman Olivia Brown said. “It was not a last-minute surprise.”
As parents protested Friday, school officials held a “job fair” to potentially match departing special-ed paraprofessionals with other positions within the district –– bus drivers, bus monitors, cafeteria workers and food service personnel.
Linda DePriest, assistant superintendent for instructional support, said principals identified the needs of their schools and made cuts accordingly.
“We had some paraprofessionals in place who could no longer perform the task that they were assigned originally such as lifting students,” DePriest said. “That’s why this fair was a good thing today.”
Cuts, school officials acknowledged, were not limited to newly hired paraprofessionals, or aides, but longtime Metro workers as well. Reductions will cut from the 632 paraprofessionals who worked in Metro during the previous school year.
Above all, parents worry Metro’s recent progress on adopting inclusive practices –– allowing special-ed students learn alongside peers –– could erode.
“I believe that these cuts threaten Metro’s efforts to move toward inclusive educational practices, and they stand to negatively impact students with disabilities,” said Erin Richardson, a parent of a special-needs child.
“The key to inclusive practices is providing those essential support services to students,” said Richardson, who contends paraprofessionals played a key role in that area.
Metro school officials, however, maintain the district will continue to address the needs of all students. Inclusive learning will remain the district’s policy, they say.
“We always want to support our students,” DePriest said. “We knew going in that these were temporary federal funds. And so what we did was use these positions to help our district build capacity to serve students with disabilities as we move toward an inclusionary model.
“We do believe we will be able to move forward with our inclusive practices,” she said.