by Ari Robin McKenna
A mix of well over a hundred teachers, parents, and students showed up at the district headquarters in SoDo Wednesday, Oct. 27, for a rally on a quickly darkening, drizzly evening. A number of speeches were given under the partially covered colonnade in front of a red wall — on the other side of that wall the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) board was in a budget session addressing a $28.1 million loss of revenue due to enrollment decline and eyeing an estimated gap of $78 million for the 2022–2023 school year.
The rally was organized by Seattle Education Association (SEA) leadership in conjunction with the Special Education PTSA (SEPTSA). The protest was in response to word that there would be 50 schools affected by special education staffing adjustments — which SEPTSA reported on their blog. With the slogan “Needs Before Numbers,” the speakers at the rally criticized the impact of these moves at specific schools and a general lack of parent and teacher involvement in staffing decisions. Attendees also questioned whether a disproportionate amount of the 3,440 students that have left the district since 2019 were receiving appropriate special education services.
Tess Bath, a special education instructional assistant at Highland Park’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program, addressed the crowd warmly. “It’s really nice to be here with all y’all. We’ve been crying a lot and it feels really healing to just share space.” The start of the 2021–2022 school year, on the heels of two COVID-disrupted years, has been brutal on educators, and Bath read from a letter she’d sent to the district about how disruptive staffing changes can be in her line of work. “SEL is built on consistent and trusting relationships. To sever those would alter the very foundation of our program and our ability to do our jobs and serve our students … They deserve to have enough support to meet their IEP [Individual Education Program] goals, access their LRE [Least Restrictive Environment], and be seen as a priority by their school district.”
The disruption that occurs when a single educator is required to leave their school and the relationships they’ve built is incalculable. But given the context of a pandemic, a massive budget shortfall, and a special education system that favors white students, some have expressed doubts about the timing of this rally, and the information that catalyzed it.Continue reading South End Equity Questions After Protest Highlights Special Education Staffing Moves